At 2-5, life is rather gloomy in Carolina for the reigning Super Bowl runner-up Panthers.
After a 30-20 win against the visiting Arizona Cardinals, some progress has been made though, including progress from the defensive line. A season-high eight sacks were produced, including three from defensive tackle Star Lotulelei and five more from five different players.
However, with nine games left in the regular season, three of which are NFC South matchups, Carolina will need a big break to sneak into the playoffs with Atlanta sitting atop the division at 5-3.
Here are a few moves the Panthers would be smart to make if they want to fully turn things around.
Players to get rid of
Wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. will be 32 next season and defensive end Charles Johnson will be 31. Both players are slowing down. If the Panthers want to get younger and more athletic, they’ll want to save money and draft their replacements.
Cornerback Robert McClain, tackle Mike Remmers and running back Fozzy Whittaker are all players who will be free agents and can be replaced.
Bottom line: Carolina needs to find talent across the board, especially in the secondary where it craves a playmaker in the worst way now that Josh Norman is in Washington and Charles Tillman is retired.
Players to re-sign
After his 11 sack season a year ago, it was expected that the Panthers would re-sign defensive tackle Kawann Short as soon as possible. However, he hasn’t looked as explosive off the line of scrimmage with just two sacks through seven games.
With his rookie contract expiring, the 2013 second round pick is still a threat to reach double digit sacks regardless of where he plays. The Panthers don’t want to overpay for his services, but the defense needs his presence, so expect the two sides to carve out a deal.
Defensive end Mario Addison, wide receiver Corey Brown and cornerback Leonard Johnson are all players worth re-signing as well. Addison will be 30 next season, but after posting 12.5 sacks the past two years, he has 1.5 as a rotational end. He’s important to keep around.
Brown is still a raw player at age 24 and he has moments when he can bust a big play. Consider him a replacement for Ginn as Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess run the show as the big wideouts.
Johnson may be a surprise considering he just played his first game all season on Sunday. However, the fifth-year pro showed up big with eight tackles, a sack and a pass breakup. If he can continue to play at a high level, the Panthers are going to be forced to re-sign him considering the lack of talent at cornerback.
Bottom line: There are players the Panthers are going to re-sign, but it should be the ones who they shouldn’t overpay for and the ones who still have lots of talent.
Players to draft
Cornerback Jalen Tabor (Florida), running back Leonard Fournette (LSU) and defensive end Jonathan Allen (Alabama) are just three players Carolina could be looking at if they fall in the top 10 of next year’s draft.
We saw the Panthers snag defensive tackle Vernon Butler late in this year’s draft, so the pick of Fournette early wouldn’t be a shocker. Carolina likes taking the best available player and if Tabor or Fournette are there in the top 10, they are must picks. Allen would help the pass rush tremendously especially off the edge.
Bottom line: Top talent is hard to pass up and the Panthers are going to find themselves with a nice pick even if they make a late season push.