Free Agents to Target in the Offseason: Defense/ST Edition
In 2019, the Panthers defense definitely could've done without the rash of injuries on the front seven, including Dontari Poe, KK Short, Gerald McCoy (on and off), and linebacker Bruce Irvin. Our special teams wasn't anything special either, letting up 3 of the NFL's 7 punt return touchdowns. Here are some players the Panthers could look to add in free agency:
Griffen is 32 years old, but he has been able to consistently produce 8-10+ sacks a season. He would be a nice steadying veteran presence to bolster the locker room after the Luke Kuechly retirement and the possible departures of Mario Addison and/or Gerald McCoy. Griffen is a fan favorite in Minnesota, and could quickly become one in Carolina.
Emmanuel Ogbah is still young at 26 years old and could pair with Brian Burns and possible draft pick Derrick Brown to start terrorizing the league's best offensive lines. Plus, all these players would be young and could stay in Carolina for the future. His best year was his rookie year when he collected 5.5 sacks and 8 TFL.
Jarran Reed has been an inspiring story you may have witnessed while watching Netflix's Last Chance U, attending EMCC. He then was recruited to Alabama, and drafted by the Seahawks. He has been causing constant pressure on the defensive line, especially in 2018 when he racked up 10.5 sacks. He's 25 years old, and could be a great pickup to pair with possible 1st round pick Derrick Brown to form a young dynamic duo in the middle.
If Jarran Reed is snatched up, the Panthers would do well to add Reader to the defensive line. Reader and Short would be a great veteran duo in the middle. Reader is very underrated and the Panthers might be able to get a reasonable deal for the amount of o-line men he abuses weekly.
Jordan Phillips had a breakout year for the Bills under Sean McDermott, totaling 9.5 sacks and 13 TFL. Phillips is a guy that has lots of character and would be a perfect fit in the Panthers organization. He's also only 27, so plenty of solid years ahead for him.
Yannick Ngakoue would be the perfect young pass rusher to pair with Brian Burns on the edge. Ngakoue has consistently pressured opposing quarterbacks, often leading to sacks. However, at 25, Yannick may be looking for the big bucks that the Panthers may not be willing to provide. There have also been reports that the Jaguars will place the $19 million franchise tag on him until a deal is done.
Dante Fowler Jr
Dante Fowler is one of the NFL's rising stars at outside linebacker. He has seemingly broken out for the Rams totaling 11.5 sacks along with 16 QB hits in the past two seasons in LA. If the Panthers were to let go of Mario Addison, we could keep Shaq Thompson inside, and have Burns and Fowler on the edge. Now that duo would be fearsome!
Matthew Judon was the only consistent edge/linebacker for the Ravens defense in the past year after the departure of CJ Mosley and Terrell Suggs. He posted 9.5 sacks this year, a career-high for him. Baltimore is expected to let him go, but he will most likely command a lot of money. Tepper has been a very aggressive owner, so who knows what he may command?
Cory Littleton has been one of the best cover linebackers in the league. He would be the perfect linebacker to pair up with Shaq Thompson if we were to stay in a 3-4 defense. Cory Littleton is pretty underrated for a linebacker, and could definitely be a solid signing.
Joe Schobert has also been an underrated linebacker from Cleveland, totaling over 100 tackles each of the last three years. He didn't have the best year in the Brown's disappointing season under Freddie Kitchens, grading out as a 59.1 from PFF. However, he'd definitely serve as a solid starter inside with Shaq Thompson.
Logan Ryan may be 29, but he's been a solid cornerback for the Titans and Patriots in his NFL career. He finished with a PFF grade of 64.9, allowing opposing receivers a catch rate of 70%. Yikes! However, he could turn his slightly underwhelming 2019 season to Carolina to mentor potential starting cornerback James Bradberry (free agency) and 2018 2nd round pick Donte Jackson.
Darby's career has mostly been defined by injuries. Although he graded out as 45.9 in Philly this past season, the uber-talented Ronald Darby could find a home on the cornerback-needy Panthers. Carolina has hired a whole new medical and coaching staff, and Darby may want a fresh start.
Although he hasn't played up to his 1st round pick status in the Big Apple, the change of scenery improved Apple's play a lot. Though the downgrade from 64.1 to 63.8 may not show his better play, watching Apple play live, he looked above average. Honestly, I think he would be a solid signing for Marty Hurney in the offseason. Plus, we could get intel from our rival, the Saints!
With the abundance of Cowboys free agents slated to hit free agency, Brown is just the odd one out in the Cowboys organization. He was alright, getting a grade 63.9 from PFF. Brown could provide decent depth at cornerback, possibly in the slot. He would just be another good piece in Phil Snow's defensive back heavy defense.
Emmanuel Moseley is only 24 and was a part of a Superbowl caliber team last season before falling to the Chiefs in the big game. Moseley was also the cornerback that fell victim to the game-changing play "Wasp" that Mahomes called to jumpstart the Chiefs offense. However, he is young and talented. Moseley played well all throughout the regular season and would be a great addition to Rhule's young roster.
Alexander finished the 2019 campaign with a 65.3 grade from PFF. He received a higher grade than Xavier Rhodes (46.4) who admittedly had a down season. He's only 26 years old and can play outside and inside. Alexander has decent speed, which will be important to possess on Matt Rhule's team.
Chandon Sullivan had been the type of cornerback that you would just stash on your practice squad before last season. Sullivan slowly improved in 2019 with the Packers, working under Packers secondary coach Jason Simmons who is now employed as the Panthers passing game coordinator. Sullivan could be a bright spot in the secondary for the Panthers next season, with questions about Donte Jackson's play and with James Bradberry most likely to depart in free agency.
After Andrew Sendejo's departure from Minnesota, Anthony Harris stepped up in a huge way, totaling 6 INT which tied for the NFL lead. He should get paid in free agency, but he may agree for a smaller deal to join with a contender. Though the Panthers will most likely not be a contender in 2020 under a rookie head coach in Matt Rhule, they could certainly convince him to trust in the process.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
Clinton-Dix could be a viable option in free agency to replace Tre Boston after enjoying a great year with the Chicago Bears, who are currently cash-strapped. Since safeties have continued to be devalued, many good players like Clinton-Dix are settling for a discount. He may want to play for a contender though.
Jimmie Ward and the 49ers just came up short in the Superbowl. Ward is 30 years old, but could provide leadership skills to the table. I'm sure Matt Rhule will value this. For the 49ers, they are trying to figure out which players to keep from hitting free agency. Ward had a resurgence in 2019 and totaled 65 tackles, a sack, 8 PD, and 2 TFL.
Vonn Bell could be an option to replace Tre Boston in free agency. Bell is from a division rival, so that's always a win. He's also only 25 years old, in the middle of his prime. Bell improved this season, and could be looking for a big deal. However, he may get a reduced deal due to the NFL undervaluing safeties.
Will Parks is a very underrated safety, and one that may fall out of the Broncos grasp due to priorities on fellow safety Justin Simmons. Parks is also only 25 years old. He could be another potential replacement for Tre Boston unless we pick one up in the draft.
What with the kicker conundrum (injured Graham Gano/young but inaccurate Joey Slye), Aldrick Rosas could be an easy solution for our kicking woes. Though he may be expensive as one of the league's best kickers, it would be well worth it to lock him up.
Leave in the comments below who you want to bring in as a Carolina Panther next year.