Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman has touched on two prominent themes when discussing his team’s offseason plans: the need for speed and the Panthers’ step up in class from the “dollar store” in free agency.
Gettleman tempered expectations by suggesting the Panthers wouldn’t be spending Monopoly money on the biggest-name free agents. But with several proven receivers hitting the market, there should be good values to be found for a team that wants a fast wideout to complement Kelvin Benjamin – preferably someone who can return kicks, too.
Gettleman could address the position in the draft, which features another deep group of receivers. But with free agency beginning Tuesday, the Observer looks at wideouts that could be fits for the Panthers, as well as a few who are probably too pricey.
Out of the Panthers’ price range
Randall Cobb, Green Bay: Cobb, 24, is that rare game-breaking threat in both the receiving and return game, which the Panthers need. But he’ll be the top wideout on the market and could command a deal worth as much as $12 million a year.
Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia: Still in his prime at 26, Maclin should cash in – with the Eagles or elsewhere – after a Pro Bowl season in which he caught 85 passes for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns. Too rich for Panthers’ blood.
Michael Crabtree, San Francisco: The market for Crabtree could be down after a sub-par 2014 in which he averaged a career-low 10.3 yards per catch. But a receiver-needy team might overpay for Crabtree, who turns 27 in September.
Torrey Smith, Baltimore: Smith caught a career-high 11 touchdowns last season, but the Ravens are said to be looking for a hometown discount. Smith has good size and speed, and could be an attractive option if the bidding doesn’t get too high.
Ted Ginn, Arizona: A reunion in Carolina would seem to make sense for Ginn, who struggled with the Cardinals after leaving the Panthers via free agency. But Ginn is also drawing interest from his home-state Browns, who could drive his price up.
Jacoby Jones, Baltimore: The Panthers nearly signed Jones in 2012 before he went to Baltimore and helped the Ravens win the Super Bowl. Jones seemed to lose confidence last year while dealing with ball security issues. But he could be a fallback if the Panthers don’t think they can sign Ginn.
Hakeem Nicks, Indianapolis: Gettleman was interested in the former Giants wideout last season before Nicks signed with the Colts. The former UNC and Independence High standout didn’t do much in Indianapolis, but at 27 he might be worth a flier.
Cecil Shorts, Jacksonville: Shorts put together several solid seasons for the Jags. But his numbers were down last season when he played with rookie quarterback Blake Bortles.
Denarius Moore, Oakland: Explosive receiver was often in Raiders’ doghouse. But former Panthers GM Bill Polian gave Moore a B-plus in his free agent rankings for ESPN.
The bottom line
There’s a sizable drop-off after the first tier. Ginn would have a seamless transition as the Panthers’ third wideout and top returner. But like last year when he left for Arizona, Ginn might want too much money.
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