The Carolina Panthers are the only team in the NFL that has not signed a single free agent in 2009 and 2010.
That’s according to ESPN Stats & Information and it backs up a common belief that Carolina owner Jerry Richardson has been preparing for a lockout since owners opted out of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. It was at that point that Richardson told coach John Fox not to expect a contract extension anytime soon (Fox’s contract ran out at the end of last season) and that his assistants would be given only very short contracts (that led to several assistants leaving the Panthers after the 2008 season).
In the history of free agency, several teams have gone back-to-back offseasons without making a signing. But the Panthers have a chance to make history if they don’t add a free agent this year (and tight end Jeremy Shockey, who was signed before the lockout doesn’t count because he was cut by New Orleans and therefore is not considered a true unrestricted free agent). The Buffalo Bills, from 1999 through 2001 are the only team ever to go three straight seasons without signing a free agent. No team has gone more than three straight seasons without adding a free agent.
It remains to be seen if Richardson will give his team the green light to start signing free agents again once a labor agreement is reached. But, historically, the Panthers were pretty aggressive in free agency before the last two years.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Panthers have signed 89 free agents in their history, which only goes back to 1995. That number only includes true free agents and not undrafted rookie free agents or players added during the season.
That ties the Panthers with the Falcons for the all-time division lead in that category. But Atlanta, New Orleans and Tampa Bay each had a two-year head start on the Panthers because free agency began in 1993. The Panthers set the record for any NFC South team by signing 19 free agents in 1995 and also added 12 in 1999, George Seifert’s first year as coach. Atlanta’s biggest year for signings was 1995, when the Falcons brought in nine free agents.
Denver leads the league in all-time free-agent signings with 106. Historically, the Saints and Buccaneers also have been fairly active. The Saints have signed 83 free agents, highlighted by 10 additions in 2002. The Bucs have signed 76 free agents with their high (14) coming in 2004, when former coach Jon Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen were at the height of their wheeling and dealing.
When it comes to free-agent defections (free agents who have signed with other teams), the Bucs lead NFC South teams with 78 and the Saints are just behind them with 74. The Falcons have had 64 free-agent defections and the Panthers have had 56. The Rams are the all-time league leader in this category with 89.
I also broke down the numbers on NFC South teams since the division came into existence in 2002. In that time span, the Bucs have been the most active of the four teams with 47 free-agent additions. The Saints are next with 45, followed by the Falcons (43) and Panthers (31).
Since 2002, the Bucs lead the division with 44 free-agent departures. The Panthers have had 34, followed by the Saints (33) and Falcons (27).