Let’s take a look at each of the Panthers’ pending free agents for next year and decide whether or not they are worth keeping. We’ll decide if the Panthers should keep, let them test free agency, or let them walk.
LB Raekwon McMillan
UPDATE: McMillan re-signed with the Panthers in Week 10, reaching an agreement on a 4yr deal worth 18.1m
After parting ways with Tahir Whitehead, and leaving Shaq Thompson as the only legitimate starting linebacker with any experience, last offseason the Panthers nabbed McMillan in free agency to a 1 year deal that totaled 18.1m. The Panthers had the need as well as the cap space to pull off the move, knowing they could part ways with McMillan after the season if things did not work out.
The linebacker play has improved since last season, but still not up to expectations. McMillan’s best performances of the season came against teams who like to run. Expect the Panthers to keep McMillan for his ability to stop the run and has the speed to play in coverage if needed.
Verdict: Keep, if he can sign a team friendly deal
S Steven Nelson
The former 3rd round pick was a cap casualty due to a flurry of moves made by the Steelers at the beginning of the season. Nelson played cornerback in Pittsburgh, but may not have the speed to play that position with the wealth of speedy receivers in the NFC South. This season the Panthers primarily used him to spell safeties Jeremy Chinn and Anthony Harris. Overall, the play of the Panthers secondary has been very disappointing – the team is actually ranked 32nd against the pass.
28 year-old Nelson is rumored to be looking for a team to retire with. The Panthers, however, are pretty disenchanted with the play of the current set of defensive backs, so Nelson may be out of luck.
Verdict: Let him test free agency, possibly return on a team friendly deal for depth.
DT Danny Shelton
Shelton found his way to the Panthers after being released by Detroit and Tennessee during the preseason. After the team traded Kawaan Short to the Raiders last offseason, the Panthers were in need of a backup nose tackle to spell Derrick Brown and mentor their only defensive lineman taken by the Panthers in the draft – Isaiahh Loudermilk. Loudermilk had an impressive preseason that landed him a starting job when the Panthers used the Nickel defense. This lead to Shelton only being used in the base defense sets and usually only involved in run defense, resulting in a relatively lackluster season.
Despite Derrick Brown having a breakout season, other members of the Panthers defensive line have had a relatively quiet season – including 2020 Pro Bowl DE Brian Burns. It will be interesting to see if Shelton is able to prove he deserves a new contract with the Panthers in these final games of the season.
Verdict: Let him walk. Defensive tackle contracts are more demanding than Shelton’s output.
OL Jon Feliciano
Feliciano was signed midseason to help bolster the Panthers run game after some evaluation of the young offensive line’s performance earlier in the season. Feliciano’s arrival led to several 150+ rushing yard games including a Week 16 performance against the Cowboys of nearly 300 rushing yards.
Though Feliciano is definitely one of the more experienced lineman on the team, the Panthers feel like there are several young lineman on the team that are just on the cusp of reaching the next level.
The Panthers will most likely allow Feliciano to test free agency since he may demand a higher contract than they are willing to pay.
HB Tevin Coleman
When the Panthers signed Tevin Coleman last season before the draft it was assumed that Coleman would split time with McCaffrey or at least get about 25% of the reps. However, after the signing, the Panthers proceeded to draft 4 running backs. Colemen was relegated to special teams return man after the preseason.
Coleman returned a punt for 90 yards in Week 4 against the Giants and had a 63 yard kickoff return in Week 9 against the Rams. Having one of the most scored on defenses, the Panthers probably expected more from Coleman based on the opportunity. The Panthers will probably allow Coleman to walk after just 1 season since his production doesn’t command a roster spot dedicated to returner.
LB Jermaine Carter Jr
After the Panthers drafted and signed several linebackers, Carter knew he would have to compete for playing time. Carter made the preseason cuts and was mostly a special teams player. The Panthers are not expected to re-sign Carter.
P Michael Palardy
Palardy’s averages have dropped each of the last few seasons. It would be a surprise if the Panthers brought back Palardy at this point.
Verdict: Let him test free agency. If there’s no one better available, re-sign.
S Anthony Harris
The Panthers signed Harris early in the free agency period to be their starter at free safety. Harris had a great preseason, earning the job he was signed for. He had 13 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack, and 1 INT through the first three weeks of the season.
Since those first three weeks, Harris’ performance has been lackluster. Sources believe the Panthers will be looking for a new starter at free safety during the offseason either via free agency or trade.
Verdict: Let him test free agency. Possibly return as a backup.
DE Aaron Sterling
Sterling made the 53 man roster but rarely saw the field during the season, only playing 28 downs on special teams. He’s too slow for what the Panthers look for in a linebacker and he’s a bit undersized to play on the Panthers defensive front.
OL Orlando Umana
Umana started 9 games for the Panthers after signing with the team as a undrafted free agent. Umana did not give up any sacks during his time as a starter. Umana was benched when the team signed veteran lineman Jon Feliciano. This caused a rift with the Panthers and Umana, one that may end with the Panthers letting him test free agency. It is worth noting that sources within the Panthers organization believe Umana can be a starter for the team as soon as next season with the right development.
WR Corey Sutton
The former App State receiver signed with the team after being undrafted. Sutton impressed enough to make the 53 man roster, but did not see the field at all during the regular season. It will be interesting to see if the Panthers give Sutton another shot to make the team.