Ron Rivera: Carolina Panthers are trending in the right direction.
The Carolina Panthers made one big move in free agency.
Like 6-foot-3, 346-pound big.
Besides signing massive (and athletic) defensive tackle Dontari Poe to plug the interior in Star Lotulelei's absence, Panthers general manager Marty Hurney also traded for speed wide receiver Torrey Smith and made a number of lower-profile moves to fill holes in free agency.
Hurney didn't make any splash signings in the secondary or along the offensive line, but by addressing depth at several spots he put himself in position to take the best player available with the 24th pick (and some of the later selections) in April's NFL draft.
Hurney still has the draft to snag a starting safety or another field-stretching wideout, but it's worth taking a look at how the Panthers stack up now personnelwise compared to the roster they took to New Orleans in early January for a wild-card playoff loss to the Saints.
Subtractions: None (yet).
Comment: Ron Rivera sure makes it sound like the Panthers are finally going to draft another quarterback to develop behind Cam Newton. That doesn't rule out Derek Anderson necessarily, but it might be telling that Cam's longtime No. 2 remains unsigned.
Subtractions: Jonathan Stewart.
Comment: It's clear Stewart is not the same back he was, even as recently as 2015. And while Cameron Artis-Payne has shown occasional flashes, it would have been nice, as Rivera said, for CAP to get more touches last season if he is going to be the thunder complement to Christian McCaffrey's lightning. Drafting a back in the middle rounds would be useful.
Tight end/wide receiver
Additions: WR Torrey Smith, WR Jarius Wright.
Subtractions: TE Ed Dickson, TE Scott Simonson, WR Kaelin Clay, WR Brenton Bersin, WR Charles Johnson.
Comment: The Panthers almost certainly could have acquired Smith without giving up a starting cornerback. Although given the money some of the wide receivers fetched in free agency, Hurney might have paid more than $5 million a year for him. Smith and Wright give Newton a couple of veteran receivers, and should benefit from playing in Norv Turner's vertical passing game. Despite more pressing needs in the secondary, it would be tempting to take a WR (looking at you, D.J. Moore) or a tight end (Hayden Hurst) in the first round.
Additions: Guard Jeremiah Sirles, tackle Zach Banner.
Subtractions: G Andrew Norwell, T John Theus, T Dan France.
Comment: Sirles-for-Norwell isn't a fair fight. And the former Viking won't necessarily be the Week 1 starter at left guard. The Panthers never expected to re-sign both Norwell and Trai Turner, which is among the reasons Dave Gettleman took Taylor Moton in the second round last year. But don't sleep on Tyler Larsen, who's been a valuable fill-in for Ryan Kalil.
Additions: Defensive tackle Dontari Poe.
Subtractions: DT Star Lotulelei, defensive end Charles Johnson.
Comment: Having Julius Peppers return for another season was arguably the Panthers' biggest win in free agency. Peppers and Mario Addison form a potent, 1-2 edge-rushing punch, and Wes Horton has quietly developed into a consistent end who can stop the run and create pressure. As long as he keeps his weight in check, Poe is an upgrade over Lotulelei.
Subtractions: Andrew Gachkar.
Comment: The Panthers haven't had to do much at this position since adding Shaq Thompson to an already formidable mix in 2015. Luke Kuechly is likely to mix organized team activities and minicamp following labrum surgery on his right shoulder. But the perennial Pro Bowler should be good to go in time for Thomas Davis' last hurrah.
Additions: Cornerback Ross Cockrell, safety Da'Norris Searcy
Subtractions: CB Daryl Worley, S Kurt Coleman, S Jairus Byrd, CB Teddy Williams.
Comment: Dropping these arrows is a little unfair before the Panthers have added draft picks. That is particularly true in the defensive backfield, where Hurney could find Coleman's replacement with Justin Reid in the first round and will probably add another corner. But having to pull the plug on Bashaud Breeland after the Worley trade put the Panthers in a scramble situation.
Comment: The Panthers made Graham Gano the NFL's second-highest paid kicker when they signed him to a four-year, $17 million contract just ahead of the deadline to use the franchise tag. Gano teamed with Michael Palardy to form one of the NFL's best special teams duos last year. The Panthers let a dangerous returner go when they chose not to tender Clay as a restricted free agent. Naturally, Clay returned to Buffalo, aka Carolina North.
An earlier version of this story misidentified Stanford defensive back Justin Reid.