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Free-agency review: Panthers

3/16/2015

Most significant signing: This has to be left tackle Michael Oher, who was released by Tennessee before the beginning of free agency. Oher has struggled the past few seasons between the Titans and Baltimore Ravens. The Panthers believe reuniting him with offensive line coach John Matsko, who was his position coach in Baltimore when Oher had his most productive years at left tackle, will resurrect his career. Adding Oher early enabled the Panthers to go into free agency without having to reach for a left tackle in a market with few choices. Having him on the roster also gives Carolina the freedom to take a tackle in the first or second round of the draft without the sense of urgency to plug that player in immediately as a starter.

Most significant loss: You’d have to say defensive end Greg Hardy, although the Panthers never seriously considered re-signing their 2013 sack leader who remains on the commissioner’s exempt list. There’s no doubt Hardy would have made the defense better, but the Panthers weren’t willing to risk big money on a player who cost them $13.1 million last season to play only one game while his domestic violence case was in limbo. Otherwise, the Panthers didn’t lose anybody of significance.

Biggest surprise: No big surprise. The Panthers weren’t expected to shop for big-name free agents. The plan all along was to re-sign a few key players such as tight end Ed Dickson and defensive tackles Dwan Edwards and Colin Cole, then fill key positions. That they got a three-year extension with Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen done early and haven’t renegotiated the contract of defensive end Charles Johnson, set to count $20 million against the cap in 2015, might be the biggest surprise.

What’s next? Filling in gaps. General manager Dave Gettleman has been most active in free agency the past two years in the second phase. He began that phase Monday by signing former Chiefs safety Kurt Coleman, who also could be a key special-teams contributor, to a two-year deal. The Panthers also might add a veteran cornerback. Former Bears corner Charles Tillman could fit that mold. Ron Rivera loved him when he coached in Chicago, and the Panthers still would like to move Bene Benwikere back to nickel corner. He was forced to move to the every-down corner as a rookie last season.