Ron Rivera said the three areas his team must shore up in the offseason are offensive line, wide receivers and secondary. General manager Dave Gettleman said before they can start evaluating needs for the draft when they will pick 25th overall, they first must get through free agency. Here’s a look at some potential targets when free agency begins March 10.
Tackles: It’s not the best year to need an offensive tackle. Last year was the season to strike, but the Panthers didn’t have the salary-cap space to go after a top tackle. This year the pickings are slim with Green Bay likely re-signing right tackle Bryan Bulaga in an effort to keep the line in front of Aaron Rodgers in tact. Tennessee’s Michael Roos is coming off a season spent on injured reserve and is considering retirement, so he’s not the choice for the Panthers. Houston’s Derek Newton didn’t have a good season in 2014 and Dallas’ Doug Free is 31 years old. San Diego’s King Dunlap seems to be the best player who could be available in free agency, but he’s coming off a very good season and appears to be a priority for the Chargers.
Receivers: Randall Cobb is the other priority in Green Bay along with Bulaga, so it’s doubtful he’ll hit the market after another solid season. Baltimore’s Torrey Smith could come cheaper after a down 2014, and he has the size and skill to be the No. 2 receiver to complement Kelvin Benjamin. Jacksonville’s Cecil Shorts also had a down year, though he was catching passes from a rookie quarterback. Shorts averaged 17.8 yards per catch in 2012 and was down to 10.5 yards per catch this season. Another bargain-bin player could be Dallas’ Dwayne Harris, who has the speed and versatility for kick and punt returns as well.
Defensive backs: The Panthers might want to slide Bené Benwikere to nickel corner, and that will mean finding a cornerback opposite Josh Norman. They won’t need to go after a big-name corner, but someone like Walter Thurmond coming off an injury with a background in Seattle could be appetizing. Houston’s Kareem Jackson also showed promise in 2014 with three interceptions in 13 games. Carolina likes Tre Boston at free safety, and it likes Roman Harper’s leadership at strong safety. But if the Panthers want to get faster in the backend, a free agent like Nate Allen or Da’Norris Searcy could be in the cards at strong safety as an aging Harper goes into the final year of his contract.