Carolina Panthers

7 free agents the Panthers could target, including several under-the-radar players

Seattle Seahawks tight end Luke Willson (82) isn’t even the highest-profile tight end from his own team, but could be a good fit for the Panthers.
Seattle Seahawks tight end Luke Willson (82) isn’t even the highest-profile tight end from his own team, but could be a good fit for the Panthers. AP

The NFL’s legal tampering period begins Monday, a 48-hour period when teams can begin officially negotiating with the agents of players who will become unrestricted free agents Wednesday.

The Carolina Panthers made a lot of noise in free agency last season, when former general manager Dave Gettleman bet big on left tackle Matt Kalil, brought Julius Peppers back to Carolina and also signed veteran defensive backs Mike Adams and Captain Munnerlyn.

The Panthers don’t have as much money to spend in free agency as they did last year, but they’re still expected to be active.

Here are seven players the Panthers could target (including several under-the-radar free agents):

Jeremy Hill, RB, Cincinnati

Cutting Jonathan Stewart left Cameron Artis-Payne as the Panthers’ only physical, power-style RB. Hill, who was an afterthought behind Giovani Bernard and Joe Mixon last year, rushed for 1,100 yards as a rookie in 2014 and had 29 rushing TDs his first three seasons. Hill looks like a reasonably priced complement to Christian McCaffrey.

Cincinnati Bengals running back Jeremy Hill (32) could be a resonably priced complement to Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey. Frank Victores AP

Taylor Gabriel, WR, Atlanta

Acquiring Eagles wideout Torrey Smith likely takes the Panthers out of the running for top-tier receivers such as Sammy Watkins, Allen Robinson and Paul Richardson. But they still could use a speedy, shifty playmaker in the slot. Interesting fact on Gabriel: According to Pro Football Focus, he netted the highest passer rating of any receiver in 2016 when he averaged 16.5 yards per catch and caught six TDs.

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Taylor Gabriel (18) is the kind of speedy, shifty receiver the Panthers need to help quarterback Cam Newton. Rick Osentoski AP

Luke Willson, TE, Seattle

The Panthers could need a backup tight end, depending on what happens with Ed Dickson. Seahawks starter Jimmy Graham is one of this year’s top tight ends. But Willson’s ability to block and catch (a career-high four touchdown catches last season) could make him a nice value signing in Carolina.

Denico Autry, DE, Oakland

Few outside of Raider Nation knew much until recently about Autry, a 6-5, 273-pounder from Albemarle who was an undrafted free agent out of Mississippi State. Autry played in Khalil Mack’s shadow in Oakland before his five-sack season last year, when he also knocked down seven passes. It looks like Autry will hit the market, based on reports out of the Bay area.

Green Bay Packers safety Morgan Burnett (42) could fill one of a number of vacancies at the position for the Panthers. Matt Ludtke AP

Morgan Burnett, S, Green Bay

The Panthers cut Kurt Coleman, and Mike Adams turns 37 this month, so they need at least one safety and maybe two. Burnett, 29, is an impact player in the back end who’s been bothered by nagging leg injuries in recent years.

Tre Boston, S, San Diego

The former Panther snagged a career-high five interceptions last season after Dave Gettleman cut him. Boston is a young player (25) with good speed who is familiar with Carolina’s scheme.

Rashaan Melvin, CB, Indianapolis

The journeyman had a breakout season in 2017 with seven interceptions and 13 pass breakups. He’s big (6-2, 193), young (28) and could step in immediately for Daryl Worley, assuming his market doesn’t get too rich for the Panthers.

Aerial footage of Bank of America Stadium provides a different perspective to the home of the Carolina Panthers football team.

Joseph Person: 704-358-5123, @josephperson