The Byron Bell Project at left tackle is officially over for the Carolina Panthers.
Bell revealed Monday afternoon on his Instagram account that he will not return and will be a free agent. A team source confirmed the team will not bring Bell back for 2015.
Bell, 26, has played his four-year career with the Panthers. In 2014, he won the starting left tackle position vacated when veteran Jordan Gross retired but didn’t come close to Gross’ Pro Bowl success.
The Panthers flipped Bell from right tackle, where he played serviceably, to left tackle after not being able to secure a free agent last year. Bell allowed 11 sacks of Cam Newton during 2014, according to Pro Football Focus, which had Bell the second-lowest rated tackle in the NFL.
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Bell’s exit, like that of running back DeAngelo Williams, wasn’t a surprise. Bell received lukewarm endorsements from the Panthers throughout the season. Coach Ron Rivera said after one particularly poor game from Bell that he “did the best he could.”
“I’m not going to discuss about what we’re going to do with Byron,” general manager Dave Gettleman said last week at the NFL scouting combine. “Again, we’re going to draft the best guy. And if we’ve got five stud guys at that position and we’re sitting there and that position has the best guy, I’m taking him. You can look at me like I’ve got brain damage, but I’m going to do it.”
Bell signed a restricted free-agent tender for one year and a $2.187million contract.
“It’s been real in Carolina now time to see where the Lord takes me next!” Bell wrote on his Instagram page. “Can’t be mad. 4 years would love more but hey it is what it is.
“I guess just got to keep pushing the Lord’s work and growing.”
The Panthers likely do not have their Week 1 starter at left tackle on the roster. Gettleman has talked glowingly of this year’s tackle class in the draft, but there aren’t many options in free agency.
Green Bay right tackle Bryan Bulaga is the top name, but he won’t hit the market if the Packers can work out a deal before March 10. Cowboys right tackle Doug Free is another player who could be a free agent, and former Baltimore and Tennessee tackle Michael Oher already is a free agent.
Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9