The NFL regular season has come to an end. The postseason rankings are set, and so is the 2021 NFL draft order. After going 5-11 on the season, the Panthers have secured the eighth overall pick in the upcoming draft. The Carolina Panthers team needs are simple, fix the offensive line, add another weapon, and add some depth to the defense.
With one season under his belt, head coach Matt Rhule has shown promise for this Panthers franchise. Carolina finished the year as the 20th ranked offense and the 18th ranked defense. Overall, the Panthers were an extremely average team across the board.
Heading into the offseason, Carolina doesn’t necessarily need to make any huge moves. They just have to build on what they already have. This is a young roster with a first year HC, which means part of the Carolina Panthers team needs come from patience. They must continue building chemistry and familiarity if they want to find success next year.
The Panthers will have a plethora of picks and they currently have just over $12 million in cap space to play with. In order to improve the roster, the front office is likely going to make some cuts to create more space to keep key players on the roster. Additionally, there are a few free-agent targets for them that could really boost the team, but more importantly, the Panthers will be utilizing the draft to add much-needed depth.
Carolina Panthers Team Needs: Free Agency
Cut Matt Paradis
The center position will be a big hole to fill for the Panthers if they choose to cut Matt Paradis. The move makes the most sense for the front office, as Paradis is due a $2 million pay raise next year. On top of that, Carolina has a potential out on his deal. If they choose to cut the six-year veteran this offseason, the Panthers won’t be punished too harshly with much dead cap money. In fact, the dead cap on Matt Paradis drops from $13.2 million to just $5.4 million. This move will give Carolina a bit more money to work with for the rest of their roster.
Re-sign Taylor Moton
Playing at right tackle, Taylor Moton has been one of the better players on the Panthers offensive line since his arrival in 2017. Keeping Moton should be on the top of the Carolina panthers team needs, as he’s only 26 years old and he’s one of the staples of the O-line.
Carolina’s offensive line was average, much like the rest of the team, but having Moton remain on the squad at least gives familiarity to the offense. Next year when Christian McCaffrey comes back healthy, this team is going to need the best possible lineup for the offensive front. Moton can provide consistency in that position, not bringing him back would just add to the Carolina Panthers team needs.
Re-sign Mike Davis
Mike Davis was a pleasant surprise for the Panthers this year after filling in for McCaffrey for the majority of the season. As a guy who has struggled to see the field his entire career, he stepped up for the Panthers this season after rushing for 642 yards and six touchdowns. He also got involved in the passing game, picking up 373 receiving yards and an additional two touchdowns.
Davis played so well, that Matt Rhule should highly consider keeping him on the roster as a nice sub-in for their superstar RB. With McCaffrey battling injuries all year long, it would be smart to have some insurance behind him to alleviate some pressure. Besides, a good portion of the league plays with more than one RB anyway. This is one of the Carolina Panthers team needs that is probably out of their control, however, as Davis will probably be paid as a starting RB this off-season.
Re-sign Joey Slye
Kickers are the most underappreciated position in football. Nobody really talks about them, and they are complained about in the fantasy football world. However, when a team has a bad kicker, it becomes an excruciatingly painful sight. Luckily for the Panthers, Joey Slye has been reliable since joining the team in 2019.
With the Panthers being one of the worst scoring teams in the league, it only makes sense to bring back Slye. He should be capable of scoring field goals when they need him to. The kicker position may not seem like it would be high up on the Carolina Panthers team needs, but it probably should be.
Sign Austin Blythe
Austin Blythe has been playing center for the Los Angeles Rams, but he also has experience playing guard. With the state of the roster, and the front office possibly allowing a couple of vets to walk, signing a guy like Blythe has to be at the top of the Carolina Panthers team needs.
It’s likely Carolina aims for an offensive lineman in the draft, but if they can land a veteran player like Blythe, they should be able to boost the O-line a tad bit more. Blythe has five years of experience and has been the starter for the Rams for the last four seasons. He’s also going to be 29 by the time next year starts, which means he’s currently in the prime of his career.
Sign Cameron Erving
Another offensive lineman the Panthers should target is Cameron Erving. It’s likely the front office allows Russell Okung to enter free agency, as he hasn’t been able to stay healthy for quite some time now.
Signing Erving won’t be a move that immediately improves the offensive line for the Panthers. Instead, he’ll be a great acquisition to join the team and compete for a starting spot. With the state this roster is in, that’s the most they can ask for. As I mentioned before, Carolina has plenty of draft picks to use on an O-lineman to continue building the trenches.
Sign Dre Kirkpatrick
Similar to the offense, the Panthers’ defense has been mediocre throughout the year. However, the Carolina fan base should feel optimistic about this defense, as they’re a very young unit still learning to play together. This defense has a chance to jump into the top-10 next year after finishing the season nearly smack dab in the middle.
However, this team is going to need some veteran leadership, and their passing defense could use some help the most. The secondary is really young, so bringing in a guy like Dre Kirkpatrick could be a nice acquisition. Not only is he still able to play at a high level, but he can be a great veteran leader for this young secondary to learn behind.
Carolina Panthers Team Needs: NFL Draft
Draft an Offensive Weapon
With the regular season over, the Panthers will find themselves with a top-10 pick in the 2021 NFL draft. This is an opportunity to really push this roster forward in the right direction, and in order to do that, the front office should draft an offensive weapon.
They’re likely going to allow Curtis Samuel to enter free agency, and the more weapons they have, the better. DJ Moore and Robby Anderson have been good receivers this year, but if Carolina can lock down another top threat, they should jump on that opportunity. This would be the best way for this offense to go over the top next year.
There are a few intriguing options for the Panthers, as they could wind up with one of the best wide receivers available in the draft. Ja’Marr Chase will likely be drafted before the Panthers pick. However, they will have a choice to draft either Devonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle, or Kyle Pitts.
Draft an Offensive Lineman
The second and third rounds are crucial here, and the Panthers could go two routes. They could select an offensive lineman, or they could take a QB to learn behind Teddy Bridgewater for a year. The more probable choice for Carolina is they pick an OL in round two.
Bridgewater isn’t going to be the franchise QB for Carolina, instead, he’s a nice bridge QB until they find their guy. With that said, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where the Panthers draft a QB early this year when they can fill other holes on the roster. He’s not the best QB, but he’s the type of player you can win if he has the right guys around him.
If the Panthers happen to follow along with my suggestions, they should be looking for a guard in either round two or three. Again, he won’t be an immediate starter, but he’s going to compete and could eventually earn playing time down the road. A few guys the Panthers should keep their eye on are Trey Smith, Ed Ingram, and Chasen Hines.
Draft Defensive Depth
After acquiring a new skills position weapon and ensuring the offensive line, the front office should consider loading up on defense with their remaining picks. The team is already young and has some nice talent throughout. However, this can be a great way for the team to add the necessary depth.
The defensive line should improve next year, and the secondary should also tighten up. Where the Panthers should focus on though, is linebackers and edge rushers. Acquiring some depth in these two positions will provide Carolina with fresh legs off the bench, and youth to take over for any older players who leave in the future. A few guys to pay attention to are Paddy Fisher, Tony Fields II, and Tyreke Smith.