Scott Fowler

Bringing back this former Panther could solve a big problem for Carolina

Cam Newton (1) greeted Minnesota cornerback Captain Munnerlyn after a game in 2016. Munnerlyn played for the Panthers for five years and will become a free agent once again in March.
Cam Newton (1) greeted Minnesota cornerback Captain Munnerlyn after a game in 2016. Munnerlyn played for the Panthers for five years and will become a free agent once again in March. AP

Bring back the Captain.

As the Carolina Panthers are casting about for ways to improve their 6-10 team, the return of cornerback Captain Munnerlyn makes all kinds of sense.

Carolina had a problem with the nickel cornerback spot for much of 2016. The team has a very promising young pair of starting outside cornerbacks in James Bradberry and Daryl Worley, but what it doesn’t have is a slot cornerback who can play at a similarly high level. Shoring up that spot is essential if Carolina is going to unseat Atlanta – the No. 1 offense in the NFL last season – in 2017.

Munnerlyn is 28 years old and played for five years at Carolina from 2009-13. Then he went to Minnesota for the past three seasons. The former South Carolina Gamecock now becomes an unrestricted free agent again in March.

Yes, Munnerlyn doesn’t have ideal size at 5-foot-9 – and he has been teased about that for his entire NFL career – but that’s less important at the nickel position. Munnerlyn is a solid tackler, an experienced player and brash in a good sort of way – the kind of way that has always made him one of coach Ron Rivera’s favorite players.

The Panthers did not get great play from their nickels in 2016. According to Pro Football Focus, nickel back Leonard Johnson missed 11 tackles in 10 games. Zack Sanchez – who like Worley and Bradberry was drafted in 2016 – was absolutely not ready to be on the field.

Munnerlyn would need to join the Panthers at a reasonable price, but if he does I could absolutely see him having a late-career renaissance in Carolina much like Ted Ginn Jr. has in his second go-around with the team. He knows the system and would also be a worthwhile mentor for Worley and Bradberry – the latter of whom I believe will become the Panthers’ next breakout star.

I also think a return to Carolina is a possibility for Julius Peppers, as I have written before. Carolina should take a hard look at Peppers in the offseason, as I hear he would certainly consider a return. I’m sure Munnerlyn would as well – he had five mostly good seasons in Charlotte and only left in 2014 because Minnesota offered him a bunch of money.

But wait, you say – didn’t Munnerlyn rip his old teammates in September following Minnesota’s 22-10 beatdown of Carolina? Well yes, he did.

“When we took the lead ... I know those guys. I knew it was over,” Munnerlyn told the Sporting News’ Alex Marvez after the game. “I’ve been in that locker room before, so I knew. Those guys really don’t play well when they are down.”

Munnerlyn also threw some shade at Devin Funchess, saying after the win that the Vikings had concentrated their coverage on Kelvin Benjamin. “We just knew where Benjamin was the whole time,” Munnerlyn said. “Funchess, we weren't worried about him. It was Kelvin Benjamin. I'm just going to be honest. Me personally, I don't think he is that good, No. 17 (Funchess). So we weren't really worried about him.”

OK, so those weren’t great things to say. But it’s pretty mild compared to about a million other examples we could name. (and Funchess has yet to prove Munnerlyn is wrong). Munnerlyn could easily be forgiven, and would be rather quickly.

The real question is whether Munnerlyn can still play.

I believe that he can – and that he should, once again, for the Panthers.