Panthers' answer at defensive end? Kony Ealy and likely a draft pick

Allen rides off into retirement (0:19)

Panthers DE Jared Allen announces his retirement after 12 years of playing in the NFL before riding off on his horse. (0:19)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Goodbye, Jared Allen.

Hello, Kony Ealy.

It was no surprise when Allen announced on Thursday that he was riding off into the sunset, calling it quits after a 12-year NFL career that likely will earn him a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Even if the 33-year-old defensive end wanted to return, it's doubtful the Carolina Panthers would have asked him back at his $8.5 million salary-cap figure. Allen, the NFL's active sacks leader (136), merely was a stopgap after Charles Johnson (hamstring) injured his hamstring in late September.

Carolina's future at right end is Ealy, a 2014 second-round pick out of Missouri. Ealy showed his potential in a Super Bowl 50 loss to Denver with three sacks, an interception and a forced fumble.

He can be the every-down end Allen couldn't be anymore.

Carolina coach Ron Rivera and general manager Dave Gettleman referred to Ealy as cornerback "Josh Norman all over again." In their words, "talented but stubborn."

Norman fought playing within the system during his rookie season in 2012. He went from starting to almost nonexistent until the 2014 season.

Norman made the Pro Bowl this season and is set to become one of the league's most highly paid corners, whether that's with a long-term deal or the franchise tag that Gettleman said is an option.

Ealy, if he can build off of his Super Bowl performance and play within the system, as he did more this past season, could be in for a breakout year in 2016.

"It was very gratifying to see what Kony did," Gettleman said after the Super Bowl. "We felt strongly about him in that second round and felt he had first-round value. What he did excites all of us and bodes well for the future."

Carolina's focus now becomes left defensive end. Johnson, second on the team's all-time sack list, had one sack in the regular season. He missed seven games with the hamstring injury. He'll turn 30 in July and is scheduled to count just over $15 million against the salary cap.

The Panthers likely will make a pass-rushing end a priority in the draft. There could be several good options, with the position deep enough that a good one could fall to the 30th pick.

This would have been the plan even if Allen hadn't announced in a video that he was retiring.

Perhaps Gettleman was giving a hint on his draft plans when asked after the season whether he considered Norman a shutdown corner.

"Shutdown corner is a misnomer," he said. "There's very few of them. It's so hard. You can't cover forever. If there's no pass rush, there's no shutdown corners."

Ealy offers the Panthers a long-term solution as a pass-rusher.

Allen didn't.

But, as the Broncos showed in the Super Bowl when they sacked quarterback Cam Newton six times and harassed him countless other times, having two players who can rush can win you a title.