Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman chose not to address the offensive tackle position in free agency last year after longtime left tackle Jordan Gross retired and went on a health kick.
After deciding to part ways with Byron Bell, Gettleman might not have a choice this year, although the pickings at the position are slim.
Former Panthers general manager and current ESPN analyst Bill Polian gave only one free agent tackle a grade higher than C – Green Bay’s Bryan Bulaga, a stalwart right tackle who came back strong after missing the 2013 season with a knee injury.
The good news for the Panthers is that the draft is loaded with quality tackles. Even so, it would behoove Gettleman to add a veteran to a returning tackle group that includes Mike Remmers and Nate Chandler.
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A look at which free agent tackles could fit for the Panthers:
Out of the Panthers’ price range
Bryan Bulaga, Green Bay: The former first-round draft pick from Iowa is clearly the cream of a thin tackle crop. The Panthers won’t be bidders.
Doug Free, Dallas: Free, 31, was an unheralded member of the Cowboys’ dominant offensive line. Dallas has to decide whether to bring back Free or re-sign backup right tackle Jermey Parnell, another free agent.
Joe Barksdale, St. Louis: It’s not just that Barksdale could fetch as much as $6 million a year. He plays right tackle – as do Bulaga and Free – and the Panthers’ biggest need is left tackle.
Michael Oher, Tennessee: The “Blind Side” inspiration was cut by the Titans after giving up six sacks in 11 games last season. But he’s met with the Panthers and could be a cost-effective stopgap for a year or two.
Derek Newton, Houston: Newton, yet another right tackle, started 46 games for the Texans over the past three seasons. The seventh-round pick in 2011 has made big strides in his technique.
Orlando Franklin, Denver: The 6-7, 320-pounder played guard for the Broncos but has the size to shift to right tackle. Fits Gettleman’s description of a “hog mollie.”
Eric Winston, Cincinnati: The NFLPA president signed with the injury-depleted Bengals in December. Panthers didn’t show interest when Winston was available last year.
Jeremy Parnell, Dallas: Started five games for the Cowboys when Free was injured. Could get a look from teams eyeing him as a starter.
Chris Hairston, Buffalo: Former Clemson standout and Winston-Salem native missed 2013 with an undisclosed medical condition. Hairston, 26, didn’t start any games last season, but could be a low-risk signing for someone looking for line depth.
The bottom line
With the exception of Oher, the common denominator among the available tackles is they all play the right side. That doesn’t help the Panthers, whose last experience trying to convert a right tackle into a left tackle was not good (see Bell, Byron). Oher played for Panthers offensive line coach John Matsko in Baltimore, but is coming off a couple of sub-par seasons.