While the Deshaun Watson situation continues to drag on, general manager Scott Fitterer hasn't wasted much time in addressing the remaining holes on the roster. The Panthers currently sit around $30 million in cap space with plenty of room to add more players. This is where we stand in the free agency market as of now:
**Note: I intend to update this page if new signings are reported by reputable sources.**
FS Xavier Woods
After a successful stint in Minnesota, Woods earns himself a nice payday (3 years $15 million) in Carolina as one of the league's more underrated safeties. At only 26 years old, he was the only defensive player to play every single snap. The durability of Woods is a welcome relief following two years of Juston Burris who was injured for much of his contract.
In Phil Snow's defense, this should allow for more safety blitzes with more reliable play at the position. It doesn't hurt that Woods has a nose for the football either; his professional career has seen him snag eight interceptions over the last five seasons. Perhaps he can carry along the Thieves' Avenue moniker for the Carolina secondary come September.
IOL Austin Corbett
Let's be honest: The Panthers haven't had a great interior offensive line since 2017 which featured Trai Turner, Ryan Kalil, and Andrew Norwell. The signing of Corbett gives hope for whoever finds themself under center for the Panthers in 2022.
RB D'Onta Foreman
If you watched the 2021 season, it was evident that the Panthers needed to play more bully ball, to run the ball down opponent's throats. Halfway through the season, they sign Cam Newton who immediately improves their read-option and running game within the five-yard line. It is yet to be seen whether or not the dazzling persona of Newton will return.
However, their previous inefficiencies prompted the signing of D'Onta Foreman. Foreman filled in down the stretch for an injured Derrick Henry, recording 133 rushes for 566 yards and 3 TDs, along with 9 catches for 123 yards. The implementation of the former Titan should provide a change of pace from CMC and Chuba and a more complete running game.
WR Rashard Higgins
At the time of the original signing, Higgins sparked a conversation on Panthers' Twitter about whether or not Rhule would be pursuing someone like Baker Mayfield to replace Darnold. This was quickly refuted after reviewing Ben McAdoo's comments on the OU star during the draft process.
Also known as "Hollywood", Higgins should have no problem getting open in the red zone as an alternative target to Moore and Anderson. His career year in 2020 saw him get 37 catches for 599 yards and 4 touchdowns with a 71.2% catch rate. Fans shouldn't expect these numbers when there are so many mouths to feed on offense, but he should at the very least serve as a capable depth receiver.
DE Marquis Haynes
The departure of prized free agent Haason Reddick might have been the best thing to happen to the former Ole Miss Rebel who has had limited opportunities over both the Rivera and Rhule regime. Panthers stat guy Will Bryan tweeted out the following:
"His 7.0 sacks over the last two seasons are tied for second-most in the NFL by players with less than 600 total defensive snaps."
If the starting defensive end job opposite Brian Burns is an open competition between him and YGM, Haynes has the opportunity to take the role and run with it.
K Zane Gonzalez
At times during the season, Zane Gonzalez was the only offense for the Panthers, who struggled moving down the field and especially capitalizing in the red zone. After all, we did have Sam Darnold at QB, who recorded 22 total turnovers in his first season in Carolina. Moreover, Gonzalez was a steady contributor, having won two NFC Special Teams Player of the Week awards in Weeks 8 & 10 respectively.
In 2021, the former Sun Devil connected on 22 of 23 extra points attempts and 20 of 22 field-goal attempts. GM Scott Fitterer rewarded him with a nice two-year extension for up to $4.5 million that should keep him here through the 2023 season.
FS Sean Chandler
Not having much of an impact on his defensive snaps, Chandler made his mark mostly through special teams. This is primarily a move to strengthen the depth at safety after the Panthers let Juston Burris go.
WR Brandon Zylstra
Zylstra simply is this season's Brenton Bersin. For those of you who knew the estate of the receiving core in 2017, I'll give you a refresher: Kelvin Benjamin, Devin Funchess, Mose Frazier, Kaelin Clay, Russell Shepard, and Brenton Bersin. On crucial 3rd or 4th-down plays, when the game was on the line, Bersin stepped up at receiver and would make the most clutch plays.
Brandon Zylstra barely dropped the ball, if at all. The 2021 season was a career year for him in which he hauled in 18 catches for 250 yards and 1 touchdown. With a one-year extension, it should give the receiving core another veteran presence more likely to stay near the bottom of the depth chart.
LB Julian Stanford
ST coordinator Chris Tabor likely had a say in bringing back the special teams veteran who played a few snaps at linebacker last year. Stanford will provide more depth in the middle of the defense.