In theory, the 2-14 Panthers should have more to do after the lockout than team in the league. In reality, we think there are a handful of rosters out there in worse shape.
G.M. Marty Hurney and new coach Ron Rivera still have plenty of work ahead. Here’s our post-lockout to-do list for Carolina:
Johnson is preferable because he plays a premium position. Getting both players back would be even better, but we suspect that Johnson and Anderson’s quietly excellent play last year will get notice around the league.
You could make an argument Johnson is the best defender available this offseason behind Nnamdi Asomugha, so he’s not going to come cheaply. Bringing back Anderson to help the run defense should be easier.
The Panthers may be able to keep both players cheaply if we return to 2010 league rules, but that seems unlikely.
2. Say goodbye to DeAngelo Williams.
Williams is a great player that just isn’t worth the cash for this team. Jonathan Stewart is one of the ten most talented backs in the league. Carolina should spend their money elsewhere, and get a nice compensatory pick in return for Williams.
3. Trade Steve Smith.
It’s just the right time. His value remains reasonably high and both sides should want to see it happen, even if they are being coy publicly.
The Panthers have an underrated pair of young wideouts in Brandon LaFell and David Gettis worth checking out fully. Signing a veteran for depth at receiver makes sense to help out Cam Newton, but don’t expect a huge investment at the position.
4. Find more defensive tackle help.
They addressed the position with two third round picks, but coach Ron Rivera admits they still need more. If Johnson re-signs elsewhere, they need a starter at end too.
5. Evaluate Chris Gamble closely.
The Panthers need a cornerback or two to help out Captain Munnerlyn. Richard Marshall seems likely to leave via free agency. Chris Gamble is due $6.75 million; he has been inconsistent and ended last year injured. It doesn’t hurt to see how he looks in camp before deciding his future.
If he’s not a premier starter anymore, the Panthers may as well cut bait. Only 28, there’s still a chance Gamble could rebound.
6. Find Cam Newton a nursemaid.
We rank this low because ultimately the Panthers don’t want a veteran quarterback that will play much. They want one that will be a good example to Newton in the quarterbacks room.