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Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Breaking down Carolina's free-agent class

By Pat Yasinskas
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

Our next stop on our team-by-team look at potential free agents is the Carolina Panthers.

Carolina's list of players who can become unrestricted free agents includes linebacker Donte' Curry, tackle Jordan Gross, offensive lineman Geoff Hangartner, return man Mark Jones, long-snapper Jason Kyle, tackle Frank Omiyale, defensive end Julius Peppers, linebacker Adam Seward and defensive tackle Darwin Walker.

Carolina's restricted free agents are defensive tackle Gary Gibson, tight end Jeff King, safety Nate Salley and linebacker James Anderson.

Overview: It's going to be a very interesting offseason in Charlotte and the Panthers are going to have to make some tough decisions on keeping some of their own free agents. One decision appears to already have been made for them with Peppers saying he wants out. The Panthers still may put the franchise tag on him and try to trade him or else they'll just have to let him walk and get nothing in return.

Peppers' situation probably helps the chances of Gross returning. If the Panthers aren't paying Peppers big money, they should have room to get a deal done with Gross. That's critical because he's the focal point of a good offensive line.

Gross and Peppers are the only big-name free agents here, but the Panthers face tough calls on some guys who have been crucial role players. Hangartner is a versatile and very solid backup and the Panthers want to keep him. But that may be difficult because he's talented enough to get a shot at a starting spot somewhere else.

The special teams is also an area to keep a close eye on. Jones had a solid season as a return man, but the Panthers are expecting Ryne Robinson to come back from injury. Kyle is one of the best long-snappers in the league, but his veteran status makes him costly even if he plays for somewhere close to the minimum. Kyle is as dependable as they come, but the Panthers have a lot of other issues to deal with and not a lot of salary-cap room. Keeping a high-priced long-snapper might be difficult.