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Carolina Panthers’ offseason agenda: 5 key items

Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman and coach Ron Rivera are scheduled to meet with the media Tuesday at Bank of America Stadium for a season wrap-up news conference that will feature a lot of questions about the offseason.

Gettleman will be asked about the contract status of quarterback Cam Newton, whom the Panthers plan to build around, and defensive end Greg Hardy, with whom they’ll part ways.

But there are plenty of other issues involving personnel, staff and salary cap that Gettleman will have to figure out as he begins his third year in Charlotte.

A look at five offseason agenda items – in addition to Newton and Hardy – for the Panthers:

1. Wanted: Left tackle

The Panthers played their way out of a top-10 pick with their late-season surge and will draft 25th overall. Like last season, that could be too low to find a long-term answer at left tackle.

Byron Bell struggled in his first season on the left side, receiving the worst pass-blocking grade and second-worst grade overall among tackles in rankings by the analytics site Pro Football Focus.

But the Panthers will be reluctant to throw big money into a lean free-agent class of left tackles, highlighted by Tennessee’s Michael Roos, who is considering retirement after microfracture surgery on his knee.

San Diego’s King Dunlap is coming off a good season and is expected to be a priority for the Chargers.

Gettleman will try to find a hidden gem at the end of the first round.

2. The DeAngelo dilemma

A year after cutting the franchise’s receiving leader, Gettleman might be in the position of releasing the team’s all-time rushing leader. DeAngelo Williams played in only six regular-season games because of injuries and finished with career lows in every major rushing category.

Fozzy Whittaker, who was getting reps ahead of Williams in the wild-card win against Arizona, is a younger, cheaper and faster alternative as a change-of-pace back to pair with resurgent Jonathan Stewart.

Cutting Williams would cost the Panthers only $300,000 against the cap and would represent another move away from old core of players drafted by former general manager Marty Hurney.

3. Possible staff changes

Rivera likely will feel pressure from the front office to fire special teams coordinator Richard Rodgers, Rivera’s longtime friend and former Cal teammate. The Panthers were bad across the board on special teams, which had a huge hand in losses to Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Minnesota.

Owner Jerry Richardson doesn’t like to pay coaches not to work. And with all of his assistants under contract through 2015, Rivera could reassign Rodgers to a different position.

Losing defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, who will interview Wednesday with the Jets, would be a huge blow to Rivera’s staff.

While a certain segment of fans enjoy ripping offensive play-caller Mike Shula, he’s expected to return in the same role.

4. Need for speed

In addition to getting Newton more protection, the Panthers have to surround him with more speed. Carolina’s 21 pass plays of 25 yards or longer were tied with Minnesota for the third-fewest in the league.

Gettleman signed two veteran possession receivers last offseason in Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant, who was cut in November. The Panthers have a talented and dangerous No. 1 wideout in Kelvin Benjamin.

But they can’t go into next season with Philly Brown and Brenton Bersin as the Nos. 3 and 4 receivers, as they were in the playoff loss at Seattle.

The ideal pickup would be a speed receiver who also returns punts and kicks. It won’t be Randall Cobb, who will get a big deal to stay in Green Bay.

But someone such as Dallas free-agent Dwayne Harris could be worth pursuing at a lesser price.

5. Massaging the cap

Much of Gettleman’s job his first two years involved restructuring contracts and getting veterans to take pay cuts to get under the salary cap.

The Panthers are in better shape this year. Joel Corry, a former agent who writes about the salary cap for cbssports.com, said Carolina should be about $14 million under his projected cap of $142 million.

That includes $14.7 million for Newton on a club option, but his number would drop if he signs an extension.

Gettleman could add a couple of years to defensive end Charles Johnson’s deal, which includes a $20 million cap number this year. But with Hardy gone and Johnson coming off another solid season, Johnson, 28, has no incentive to agree to a cut in pay.

The same goes for Stewart, who had his best season since 2009.

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