HomeTrade RumorsCarolina Panthers: A Preview of the 2024 NFL Offseason

Carolina Panthers: A Preview of the 2024 NFL Offseason

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Carolina Panthers Projected Cap Space: $32.5 million

Draft Picks:
– 2nd (No. 33)
– 3rd (No. 65)
– 4th (No. 102)
– 5th (No. 141, TEN)
– 5th (No. 165, SF)
– 6th (No. 180, ARI)

Notable Free Agents:

Top Three Needs
1 – Wide Receiver
After trading No. 1 WR D.J. Moore to the Bears for the No. 1 pick and what was supposed to be a long-term solution at quarterback, the Panthers planned to replace Moore by committee. They went out and added Adam Thielen and DJ Chark in free agency to give Young a savvy, veteran slot presence and a field-stretching deep threat. They rounded out the skill groups with TE Hayden Hurst and RB Miles Sanders, then used a high second-rounder on WR Jonathan Mingo to grow along with Young as a physical, outside receiver. The message from the coaching staff was that the heady Young would quickly decipher and dissect defenses by spreading the ball around to the open player, with no one player for opponents to key on.

In reality, no one on offense for the Panthers scared opposing teams in 2023. Thielen at least was usually reliable at the catch point and could find soft spots in zone coverage. He piled up over 100 receptions as far and away the best player on offense. But no one could reliably get open for Young when defenses clamped down in man coverage. Thielen’s ideally a No. 3 on a good team. Chark played slow and came up small far more often than not in contest situations. Mingo looked like his head was spinning the entire year. The former coaching staff didn’t scheme up enough ways to hide those deficiencies.

Improving the supporting cast for Young is imperative moving forward, as even an improvement to league average would do wonders for helping him look like a viable NFL quarterback. The Panthers need speed, they need players who can beat man coverage and they need players who are dynamic after the catch. And they probably need to address the position in both free agency and the draft. Thielen is around for at least one more season due to his contract and can work from the slot. Mingo is probably best suited for the slot as well, or at least needs to be working closer to the formation where his physicality and blocking can be better highlighted. In that sense, new HC Dave Canales could be good for Mingo since he used a lot of condensed formations last year in Tampa Bay. But Carolina probably needs to add two outside receivers who can threaten deep down the field and open things up.

2 – Edge Rusher
Panthers DC Ejiro Evero helped the team rank fourth in total defense last year and that side of the ball was unquestionably a bright spot in a miserable season. However, the defense was a paper tiger…err, paper panther. Carolina was 29th in scoring defense as the offense regularly left them on the field too long. Teams also had success running the ball and didn’t have to test the pass defense as much. So while the defense put up a valiant effort, improvement is needed.

When the Panthers start facing more neutral game scripts, they’ll need reinforcements for the pass rush. Burns was still a star in 2023 but he didn’t have as many situations to pin his ears back and rush with the Panthers playing scant minutes all season with the lead. He’s also on an expiring contract. While it feels more likely than not that the Panthers franchise him, his future in 2025 and beyond remains unclear.

No one else is a real threat outside of Burns. Gross-Matos had a nice season as a rotational player but unless he takes another step forward he’s best suited to come off the bench and truthfully might be better in a different scheme. The Panthers used half of the picks from the Christian McCaffrey trade to move up for OLB D.J. Johnson in the third round last year, and got almost nothing from him as a rookie. Help is needed here, as pass rusher is a premium position that teams can’t afford to be weak at

3 – Interior Offensive Line
It was a complete and total failure on offense for the Panthers in 2023, and that included major regression from the offensive line. Starting LT Ikem Ekwonu was a liability in pass protection far too often, and C Bradley Bozeman took a step back after a solid 2022 season — perhaps because of the change in scheme on offense. At guard, Carolina went through more than half a dozen different players due to persistent injuries.

With Ekwonu still only 23 years old and veteran stalwart Taylor Moton on the right side, it makes sense for the Panthers to focus their efforts to improve on the interior. That also has the added benefit of helping shield the diminutive Young from interior pressure, which other teams with short quarterbacks have had success prioritizing.

The catch is all three of the Panthers’ starters from Week 1 this past season — Bozeman, LG Brady Christensen and RG Austin Corbett — are still under contract. Bozeman’s $4 million salary is guaranteed and Carolina wouldn’t be able to cut Corbett without a June 1 designation. Christensen tore his biceps in Week 1 and Corbett tore his MCL in Week 11 but both should be ready for the offseason program.

Maybe a new system helps all three get back to playing at a solid level. But the Panthers need insurance here. Just because all three are likely locked onto the roster doesn’t mean all three have to be locked into starting roles. Carolina can be on the lookout for low-cost veterans or draft picks to push the incumbents or make sure the Panthers aren’t in a bind if injury issues crop up again.

One Big Question
Can Young be saved?

Frankly speaking, the history of quarterbacks who started their career as poorly as Young did in 2023 is not good. He threw just 11 touchdowns, failed to crack 3,000 yards passing despite starting 16 games and throwing 527 times and led the NFL in yards lost to sacks. The NFL just looked too big for him more often than not.

Having said that, it has to be stressed how awful Young’s supporting cast was. His receivers let him down consistently at the catch point and he’d regularly hit the top of his drop with no one open. That impacted the pass protection, too. There were moments of accuracy and navigating the pocket from Young that looked like his Alabama tape, but ended in incompletions because his supporting cast failed him.

Carolina invested far too much in Young to give up on him after just one season, and fired the former coaching staff because it was clear they weren’t a good fit with Young. Canales will be tasked with putting Young in positions to succeed and his future likely depends on doing that well. New GM Dan Morgan has to do a better job of building up the roster than his predecessor. Young needs better protection, better weapons and a system that does a better job of highlighting his strengths and minimizing his weaknesses.

Even if Young looks much more competent in 2024 with all of these changes, there are still major questions down the road about his ceiling as an NFL quarterback. Carolina thought it was getting an elite talent who could save the franchise with the No. 1 pick. That ship seems like it sailed and went No. 2 overall to the Texans.

Now Young is the one who needs saving. The bar was set so low as a rookie that Young could improve dramatically and the Panthers would still be left with a below-average starter. But they can’t think that far ahead just yet. The focus has to be pulling Young’s career back from the edge, protecting his confidence and helping him be functional at least.

Then they can worry about figuring out how good he can be.

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