Open Modal
On Air
07:00 PM - 09:00 PM
App-Store-Badge
Google-Play-Badge

Panthers need every-down

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The sixth installation of an 11-part analysis of the Carolina Panthers roster looks at the most crucial defensive position to address during the offseason.

Next up: Defensive end

2016 grade: C. You may be surprised that this group of seven players produced 23 of the team’s 47 sacks, the second most in the NFL behind Arizona. But this position wasn’t the strength the Panthers hoped it would be. It hasn’t been since the 2013 season when Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy combined for 26 sacks.

Kony Ealy didn't produce in 2016 the way the Panthers hoped after his huge Super Bowl performance. Paul Buck/EPA

Under contract (2017 salary cap number): Kony Ealy ($1,128,538), Ryan Delaire ($615,000), Larry Webster ($540,000).

Key free agents: Charles Johnson, UFA; Mario Addison, UFA; Wes Horton, UFA; Rakim Cox, UFA.

The good: Ealy had all five of his sacks over the past nine games, so he again showed the promise he did at the end of the 2015 season when he had three sacks in the Super Bowl. But it took moving Ealy to a backup role until a late-season injury by Charles Johnson forced him back into the starting lineup to get him to produce consistently. One also could consider it good news that Johnson, the team’s second all-time leader in sacks, wants to re-sign and likely would for another bargain. Last year, he signed a one-year, $3 million deal after being released to save $15 million under the cap. Johnson was Carolina’s most consistent defensive lineman, according to coach Ron Rivera, this past season before a late-season hamstring injury forced him to miss three games. See the bad for the rest of Johnson.

The bad: While Johnson was consistent, he will be 32 before the 2017 season and he has missed 10 games over the past two years with injuries. He also has had only five sacks during that span, not reaching double digits since 2013 when he had 11. Addison, who led the team in sacks with 9.5 this past season, is a free agent and wants to return. But Addison will turn 30 when the season begins and still isn’t considered an every-down defensive end even though Rivera called him a complete defensive end at the end of the season. Throw in Wes Horton, primarily a run-stopper, and three of Carolina’s top four ends are unrestricted free agents. Then there’s Ealy, who still hasn’t proven he consistently can be the every-down end the Panthers have been seeking since losing Hardy in 2014.

The draft: Despite needs on offense, this might be the year to get an every-down end that will come at a much cheaper cost than re-signing Addison. Several intriguing prospects could be available to the Panthers with the No. 8 pick. Among those are Tennessee’s Derek Barnett (6-3, 268), Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett (6-5, 270) and Alabama’s Jonathan Allen (6-3, 294). Allen can play defensive end or tackle and likely will be among the first three to five players taken, so he shouldn’t be available. He also probably is better suited as a 3-4 end, and the Panthers run the 4-3. But with Johnson and Addison entering their 30s (even if they re-sign) and Ealy set to become a free agent in 2018, the Panthers need a long-term solution at this position.

Final thought: General manager Dave Gettleman has used three of his four first-round picks on a defensive player since 2013, so don’t be surprised if he uses another if the right fit at end is there. He also wants to give new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks all the weapons necessary to succeed, and an every-down end is the biggest missing piece. The Panthers haven’t taken an end in the first round since 2002, when Julius Peppers was the second overall pick. He went on to become Carolina’s all-time sack leader. If Gettleman takes care of the offensive tackle spot in free agency then a defensive end or running back probably will be his best option in the first round.

Related Posts

Loading...
On Air
07:00 PM - 09:00 PM
App-Store-Badge
Google-Play-Badge