Say adios to the Three Amigos.
That was the name for the three rookie cornerbacks drafted by the Panthers this past spring, which became two rookie cornerbacks after fifth-rounder Zack Sanchez was waived Saturday as NFL teams pared their rosters to 53 players.
Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman had never cut any of his healthy draft picks. But he parted with two of his five selections this year -- seventh-round tight end Beau Sandland also was waived -- when pre-draft evaluations were condensed due to the team’s extended postseason run.
The 53-man roster includes 40 players from the Super Bowl roster. That does not count wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin and cornerback Bene’ Benwikere, who were injured last season.
With lingering questions about their offensive line and secondary depth, the Panthers could pick up a free agent or make a waiver claim from among the 600 or so players who flooded the market after Saturday’s cuts. But they’ll be 31st in line for waivers (based on last season’s finish) until the start of Week 4.
Sanchez, the ball-hawk from Oklahoma, was the most surprising of the Panthers’ 22 moves.
He was the last of three cornerbacks selected a week after Gettleman pulled the franchise tag from Pro Bowl corner Josh Norman. But while James Bradberry and Daryl Worley quickly became starters, Sanchez’s snaps were limited to second- and third-team work at nickel back.
Sanchez had a strong start to training camp, but he struggled a bit with the scheme while asked to learn both the outside corner and nickel positions.
After Thursday’s exhibition finale against Pittsburgh, Sanchez conceded he’d played poorly in the third preseason game against New England.
“Last week wasn’t up to par, wasn’t me. So (Thursday) was just going and showing I’m not that player I was last week,” Sanchez told the Observer. “I’m a guy that can play on special teams and on defense and make plays. Hopefully it was enough. But I can go out saying I left everything out there.”
Sanchez (5-11, 185) had 15 interceptions during three seasons at Oklahoma, and was among the nation’s leaders with seven last year for the Sooners. If he clears waivers, he would be a strong candidate for the Panthers’ practice squad.
With one exception, Gettleman had held on to his draft picks before this year. In 2014, he waived injured sixth-round running back Tyler Gaffney, who was claimed on waivers by New England the next day.
Several young players -- undrafted rookie linebackers Jeremy Cash and Jared Norris and second-year wideout Damiere Byrd -- forced their way on to the roster with impressive preseason showings.
Cash, a converted safety, cemented his spot with a strong second half Thursday against Pittsburgh when he jarred a ball loose and a pass breakup with another big hit.
Byrd, a sprinter on South Carolina’s track team, averaged 18.5 yards per catch and had two long returns -- a 24-yard punt runback and a 48-yard kick return. Byrd was one of the final roster cuts as a rookie last year and spent the season on Carolina’s practice squad.
Other roster notables:
▪ Little-known offensive linemen Tyler Larsen and Donald Hawkins both made it. The Panthers were forced to keep Larsen, a first-year guard from Utah State, after Chris Scott was suspended the first four games for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
▪ Veteran Kyle Love was the odd man out at defensive tackle. The Panthers kept four interior linemen, with first-round pick Vernon Butler (naturally) and free agent acquisition Paul Soliai joining returning starters Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei.
▪ The Panthers kept six receivers and seven linebackers for the first time under Gettleman. But unless Dean Marlowe’s hamstring heals in a hurry, they may still be in the market for a backup safety.