Panthers a player later in free agency?

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

Say what you want about Carolina's silent offseason. At least the Panthers are in good company.

I was just reviewing what's happened around the league since the start of free agency and one thing really jumped out. The Panthers are one of only two teams that hasn't signed an unrestricted free agent from another team.

The Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers are the other. It makes a lot of sense to keep your team pretty much intact after winning a Super Bowl.

But the Panthers aren't in the same boat as the Steelers. Yes, they were 12-4 last season, but that playoff loss to Arizona was ugly and it showed the Panthers have needs.

The only real moves they've made since the end of last season were re-signing offensive tackle Jordan Gross and placing the franchise tag on defensive end Julius Peppers. Keeping Gross was hugely important because he's the anchor of a good offensive line. The Panthers did what they had to do with Peppers, who has asked out of Carolina.

The franchise tag gives the Panthers some power over Peppers. They can pretty much force him to stay, if they want. They've also put themselves in a position where they can trade Peppers and get some decent compensation.

But those two moves have handcuffed the Panthers when it comes to the salary cap and kept them from playing in free agency. Gross, Peppers and quarterback Jake Delhomme are combining for about $38 million in cap space right now.

That's why Carolina hasn't really pursued any free agents. At the same time, they've lost players like kick returner Mark Jones and cornerback Ken Lucas. They've got alternatives at those spots, but they're still running the risk of losing long-snapper Jason Kyle and they need depth on the defensive line, in the secondary and at wide receiver.

Are the Panthers going to be able to fill all those needs in the draft? No, they'll take care of some spots, but not all of them. At some point, probably after the draft, the Panthers are going to have to make some moves in free agency. If they get rid of Peppers, someone like veteran defensive end Kevin Carter probably still will be sitting out there and could be a possibility. There are also some decent veteran cornerbacks available (and probably more coming after the draft) that could fill the nickel back role behind starters Chris Gamble and Richard Marshall.

Maybe they trade Peppers and free up $17 million in cap space. Maybe they extend Delhomme's contract and trim his cap figure for this year. Or maybe they restructure some other contracts.

But the Panthers have to make at least a few moves in free agency. The Steelers can go the route of not fixing what isn't broken. The Panthers still have some flaws that have to be fixed.