- David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
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With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple months away, we assess the Carolina Panthers' offseason moves.
Best move: Selecting Florida State wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin with the 28th pick of the draft. At 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, Benjamin is considered by many to be a first-round risk because he doesn't have a long history of performing at a high level. But after watching him in rookie camp, the way he effortlessly caught passes in traffic even when the passes weren't well-thrown, he has a chance to make people quickly forget the release of Steve Smith and become a long-term solution as a No. 1 receiver.
Riskiest move: Many will argue releasing Smith, the team's all-time leading receiver, should be here. Although I didn't like the way it was handled, it wasn't such a big risk when you consider Smith was no longer a No. 1-caliber receiver. The biggest risk was not signing a veteran left tackle to replace the retired Jordan Gross and leaving the job to right tackle Byron Bell or Nate Chandler, a former defensive lineman. Maybe one will surprise, but leaving franchise quarterback Cam Newton without a proven player protecting his blind side seems like a mistake for a team that depends so heavily on Newton.
Most surprising move: That the team didn't find a way to keep any of its top four wide receivers from last season. While I believe the Panthers will be better off with the new group that consists of Benjamin; free agents Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant and Tiquan Underwood; and several young players such as Tavarres King, Marvin McNutt and Brenton Bersin few would have predicted a complete overhaul of that group after they starting developing chemistry with Newton.
Reason for the minus: Many would say the Panthers had a disastrous offseason, losing their top four receivers, three-fourths of their starting secondary and their left tackle. Oh, and quarterback Cam Newton is out for four months after undergoing ankle surgery. But the retirement of the left tackle aside, the loses weren't huge. So, why the B-minus? That would be for the distraction created after the arrest of Pro Bowl defensive end Greg Hardy. You never want to have a star player in trouble, particularly when you've just guaranteed him $13.1 million with the franchise tag. At a time when the Panthers are trying to focus on retooling, Hardy's arrest on domestic violence charges is dominating the headlines.