The Carolina Panthers are not going into their bye week quietly.
On Tuesday, they released veteran Jason Avant in favor of faster, young receivers and sent starting right tackle Nate Chandler to the injured reserve with a torn meniscus in his right knee.
Avant, a nine-year veteran, brought leadership and experience to a young receiving group, but the Panthers (3-7-1) have lacked speed with their pass catchers.
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“In all fairness to him, it has nothing to do with what he didn’t do or did or anything like that,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “This had everything to do with what we see in (undrafted rookie receiver) Philly (Brown) and the potential in him. When you have veteran guys who play a lot in front of younger guys that have potential, sometimes you stunt their growth. This is something we felt we needed to do to give Philly an opportunity to be on the field more.”
Carolina’s receivers have struggled to create separation from defenders from as early as the Week 4 game against Baltimore, and that was very evident two weeks ago against Philadelphia.
Sunday, against the Falcons, Brown was able to speed by defenders on his way to a 47-yard touchdown.
Rivera pointed to the Panthers’ glut of possession receivers and the lack of speedsters. Avant, Jerricho Cotchery and Brenton Bersin are similar receivers, Rivera said. In a corresponding move, the Panthers brought up speedy receiver De’Andre Presley from the practice squad.
“I thank the people in Charlotte for the opportunity to play here and I enjoyed my experience with all my teammates and everybody,” Avant said by phone. “I hope they do well.”
But Avant – who signed a one-year, $1.05 million contract in the offseason – was surprised by the news, his agent, Doug Hendrickson, said.
“It was surprising and confusing that they had to do this right now,” Hendrickson said. “The most surprising thing was they indicated he wasn’t fast enough to play outside. Well, in his nine-year career, he’s never been an outside guy. They knew that when they brought him, and now he’s not fast enough to play outside?
“That’s no surprise because that’s not what he signed for. Yeah, am I confused? Yes. Is Jason confused? Yes. Is it disappointing? Absolutely. It’s dumbfounding.”
Avant’s release came two days after he publicly questioned Carolina’s play-calling in their next-to-last drive in the 19-17 loss to the Falcons. Avant said the Panthers should have been more aggressive in their calls to get kicker Graham Gano in better field-goal range before he missed a 46-yard attempt.
Rivera denied the release had anything to do with Avant’s comments, and Hendrickson said he didn’t believe they had anything to do with it either.
“Absolutely not,” Hendrickson said. “Jason is one of the classiest guys ever to play in the NFL. One of the most respected guys to ever play in the NFL. And so, no, his comments had nothing to do with him getting released. There’s not a person in the NFL that doesn’t hold him in the highest regard.”
The Panthers have 33 pass plays of at least 20 yards this season, 22 to receivers, and 11 of those to Kelvin Benjamin. In Brown and Presley, the Panthers have two players who are able to stretch the field and give Carolina a deep threat.
Carolina had several speed options in training camp. The Panthers cut Tiquan Underwood and Kealoha Pilares before the season and lost Tavarres King to the Jaguars after placing him on the practice squad.
“Probably one of the things that was really illustrated in the Philadelphia game was as much man coverage as we got,” Rivera said. “And then going into this (Falcons) game and seeing how much man coverage you get. That’s tough. It changes what you’re trying to do because of what they’re doing.
“So now, Sunday watching the game and watching them trying to play man coverage and watching Philly run by or get open, now all of a sudden it’s, hey guys, this is what we’ve got to start doing.”
Though the Panthers seem confident with what they’re doing at receiver, they’re less sure who will take Chandler’s place at right tackle.
Chandler injured his knee during Sunday’s game, and an MRI on Monday revealed he had a torn meniscus.
The Panthers will look at Chris Scott, Mike Remmers, Amini Silatolu and David Foucault next week at practice to replace Chandler. The Nov. 30 game against Minnesota will be the seventh consecutive game with a different Carolina starting offensive.
Carolina will look at the free-agent market for tackles, but Rivera indicated a right tackle starter will come from that group.
“Those four guys right now, we think we’ll find our candidate,” Rivera said.
Staff writer Joseph Person contributed.