The Carolina Panthers continued with their youth movement in earnest Tuesday, waiving veteran cornerback Antoine Cason and backup linebacker Jason Williams after both surrendered big plays Sunday in a loss at Minnesota.
The Panthers have jettisoned four underperforming veterans in recent weeks, including defensive back Charles Godfrey and wide receiver Jason Avant.
Cason and Avant were among the inexpensive free agents that general manager Dave Gettleman signed to one-year deals during the offseason after a purge of the receiving corps and secondary.
To fill the roster spots of Cason and Williams, the Panthers (3-8-1) activated a pair of undrafted rookies from the practice squad – cornerback Carrington Byndom and linebacker Horace Miller.
Cason and Williams both had a big part in the Panthers’ first-half meltdown during their 31-13 defeat against the Vikings.
Williams, a core special teams player, missed an assignment that resulted in the first of two blocked punts the Vikings returned for touchdowns in the first half.
Cason gave up a 17-yard touchdown to Greg Jennings late in the first half after Jennings caught a short pass and made a simple move to fake out Cason and get in the end zone.
The play continued a season-long trend for Cason, who started 11 games but was among the lowest-rated cornerbacks in the league by Pro Football Focus, an NFL analytics site.
PFF ranked Cason 111th out of 117 cornerbacks overall, and 116th in terms of coverage.
Cason was one of three free agents Gettleman brought in to rebuild a secondary that lost four of its top five players from last year’s 12-4 team.
Cason, 28, was coming off a disappointing, one-year stint with Arizona in which he failed to win a starting position and worked most of the year as the Cardinals’ sixth defensive back.
But Gettleman and Panthers coach Ron Rivera hoped Cason would regain the form he showed in San Diego when Rivera and Panthers secondary coach Steve Wilks were on Norv Turner’s Chargers’ staff.
Instead, Cason allowed quarterbacks to complete 57 of 71 passes against him for an 80.3 completion percentage and 122.2 passer rating.
Cason, who signed for the league minimum in March, was better in run support. His four forced fumbles tied for the league lead and his 58 tackles were third-best on the team.
But after giving up the touchdown catch to Jennings at Minnesota, Cason was benched in favor of rookie Bene’ Benwikere, who is expected to take over Cason’s spot full-time.
Byndom’s promotion will give the Panthers three rookies in the secondary, along with Benwikere and free safety Tre Boston, who replaced veteran Thomas DeCoud against the Vikings before leaving with an ankle injury in the second half.
Williams was let go a day after Rivera defended special teams coordinator Richard Rodgers. Against the Vikings, the Panthers became the first team in a quarter-century to allow two blocked punts to be returned for touchdowns.
Williams, 28, played in 45 games during two stints with the Panthers, almost exclusively as a special teams contributor. He had a blocked punt that set up a touchdown in a Week 15 win against the Jets last season.
But his failure to account for a Vikings’ player running a stunt forced DeCoud to pick him up, and freed DeCoud’s man – Adam Thielen – to come through the line cleanly and block Brad Nortman’s first-quarter punt. Thielen picked up the ball and ran 30 yards for the score.
Rivera said he plans to use the players who give the Panthers the best chance at winning over their final four games, regardless of whether they’re veterans or young players. But given the reps received by Boston and Benwikere at Minnesota, it certainly appears the Panthers are in full evaluate-for-the-future mode.
DeCoud, one of the veterans signed to try to help the Panthers reach the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time, said Monday he wouldn’t question the coaches’ decisions or short-term direction of the franchise.
“I’m just going to keep going and let the chips fall where they may. It’s something I guess we’re figuring out,” DeCoud said when asked about the rotation at safety. “I’m here. I’m on this team. I’m here to help this team win. So whatever decision is made, I have to live with it.”
Practice-squad move: To fill the practice squad vacancy created by Byndom’s promotion, the Panthers signed rookie safety Kimario McFadden on Tuesday. The undrafted free agent from S.C. State was on the practice squads of Atlanta and Tampa Bay earlier this season.