The 2021 season, albeit disappointing, it was growth for the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers were tested with a very tough schedule, facing opponents from the NFC East and AFC East – which are the divisions that included participants of the season 1 and season 2 PML Super Bowls.
Going into the off-season the Panthers had several free agents that were seemingly 1-year rentals.
LB Raekwon McMillan
Before the 2021 season, the Panthers committed to rebuilding the LB core. They went all out to sign McMillan to only a 1 year deal. McMillan performed well enough to earn a new deal – 4yrs worth 18.1m. Resigned with Carolina.
S Steven Nelson
Nelson was not resigned originally, and decided to test free agency. UPDATE: Safety Steven Nelson returned to the Panthers this preseason, fighting for a roster spot behind Kyle Fuller and Jordan Poyer. Signed with Carolina during the preseason, released Week 4 of the preseason.
DT Danny Shelton – Decided to test free agency after spending the season behind Derrick Brown. Signed with Baltimore.
OL Jon Feliciano – Decided to test free agency. Signed with Arizona.
HB Tevin Coleman – Team did not re-sign. Signed with Buffalo.
LB Jermaine Carter Jr – Team did not offer to re-sign Carter after his rookie contract ended. Signed with Minnesota.
P Michael Palardy – Team did not offer to re-sign Palardy. Signed with Kansas City.
S Anthony Harris – Did not offer a new contract. Currently a free agent.
DE Aaron Sterling – Did not offer to re-sign Sterling after he made team last year as a UDFA. Signed with Miami.
OL Orlando Umana – Umana declined to re-sign with the team. Signed with Houston
WR Corey Sutton – Sutton made the team as UDFA and then decided to test free agency. Currently signed to New York Giants practice squad.
Other Releases: QB Teddy Bridgewater, S Tre Boston
WR Dante Pettis
The Panthers were stunned to see the 26 year old WR Dante Pettis available in free agency. The team brought him in for a visit and were impressed enough to offer the young WR a 3-year deal worth 11mil. Pettis looks to fit in at the 4th WR and could be pushed into a starting role if Moore, Anderson, or Samuel were to miss time. It will be worth watching to see if 2021 rookie WR Chris Olave can beat out Pettis for this spot on the depth chart.
OL Kelechi Osemele
The Panthers needed to address a starting guard position after Feliciano and Umana did not re-sign with the team. Osemele is a great pass blocker with size and strength to take on the likes of Sheldon Rankins, Jonathan Allen, Vita Vea, and Snacks Harrison in the division.
OL Jake Curhan
With Osemele turning 33 this season, the Panthers thought of a backup plan. That backup plan was Jake Curhan. Curhan is more of a run blocking lineman who could benefit from being under Osemele’s wing. Expect the Panthers to make Curhan a starter in 2023 at some point.
OL Marcus Gilbert
Gilbert was signed to backup center Matt Paradis. Gilbert is a versatile player who could see time at either guard position if Landon Young or Kelechi Osemele were to miss time.
OL Morgan Moses
Morgan Moses was signed to backup tackles Taylor Moton and Greg Little. The Panthers loved his ability to defend most speed rushing defensive ends, only allowing 6 sacks over the previous 2 seasons. Moses could potentially see early playing time as a starting guard if the Panthers are not comfortable with some of the younger players like Landon Young.
DE Ryan Kerrigan
Kerrigan was brought on to be a mentor to young starters Brian Burns and Yetur Gross-Matos. The Panthers believe Kerrigan may have a little bit more left in the tank. Kerrigan still has a talent for reaching out and taking down the ball-carrier if they are in range, regardless of who is in his face.
CB Desmond Trufant
Trufant was also brought in as a mentor, but could potentially see more playing time than Kerrigan since the secondary has not come on as fast as Burns and YGM have. Trufant is projected to be the starting slot corner and could see time at free safety in coverage heavy looks.
FS Kyle Fuller
The Panthers have already stated that Fuller will most likely be the starting free safety when the Panthers open the season. He’s excellent in zone coverage and still has considerable speed at the position.
SS Jordan Poyer
After not re-signing with the super bowl champions, Jordan Poyer joined the Panthers and looks to see time backing up or splitting time with either Kyle Fuller or Jeremy Chinn.
P JK Scott
JK Scott joined the team after punter Matt Palardy decided to test free agency. Scott is both an accurate and powerful punter.
After filling most holes in free agency and even a couple of starters, the Panthers were in a spot where they did not believe they needed to find an immediate starter early in the draft. This set them up to draft players who had abilities that you can’t teach.
Round 1, Pick 7 – CB Tyson Campbell
The Panthers were impressed by Campbell’s size and speed combination: 6’2 and ran a 4.40. He’s also believed to be a very good man corner, which the Panthers are running more of these days. Campbell could possibly be a day 1 starter if needed.
Round 2, Pick 7 – DE Josh Kaindoh
Sources say Kaindoh was almost selected at 7th overall by the Panthers and the Panthers were trying to trade back into the first round to grab him after their first pick. Luckily, Kaindoh fell to the Panthers in the second round and they got their guy. Kaindoh reminds some of Julius Peppers. Expect Kaindoh to see time early on, spelling Burns and YGM at the EDGE position.
Round 2, Pick 31 – WR Wan’Dale Robinson
In a stunning move, the Panthers traded their 2023 first round pick to be able to select Robinson after already having DJ Moore, Curtis Samuel, Robby Anderson, Dante Pettis, and Chris Olave. DJ Moore is in a contract year and it may be a tough to re-sign. This Panthers regime has been very good with managing the cap situation and this might have been just as much a cap move as it was a move to get someone that team was excited about. Robinson is an electrifying player who is a weapon at wide receiver and running back. Look for Robinson to play mostly returner early on with seeing 5-10 touches a game at running back or wide receiver.
Round 3, Pick 7 – DT Greg Emerson
Some say the Panthers should have picked an offensive lineman with this pick after most of their free agent OL were over the age of 30. The Panthers GM said that Emerson was just too good to pass up. He fits in as a 3-4 defensive end who is quick and just needs some time to develop into an all-round defensive lineman. It would not be shocking to see Emerson opposite of Derrick Brown in 4-3 looks or as pass rushing DT early on in the season.
With their 4th and 5th round picks the Panthers picked a pair of 6’4 project wide receivers. Both WRs are tall, quick, and have sneaky hands. It will be interesting to see if either makes the final roster, but both have potential with the right coaching and experience.
Round 6, Pick 7 – OL Jaxson Kirkland
Kirkland looks to be the lineman to take up the final offensive lineman spot on the roster. Kirkland will most likely see time as a reserve and may not see much playing time in his first season. However, the Panthers believe Kirkland has the natural abilities and size to be a starter much sooner than many expect.
Round 6, Pick 31 – DL Jacob Lichtenstein
Lichtenstein is a DE/DT tweener who could see snaps when the Panthers go to a 4-3 look. He’s great against the run and has unique quickness. The Panthers admire his consistent effort to chase down defenders sideline to sideline.
Round 7, Pick 7 – DL Lawrence Johnson
When scouting Emerson, the Panthers noticed Johnson had almost an identical scouting report as Emerson. This was most likely an insurance pick for Emerson as both have a very similar skillset – the Panthers think finding 3rd round value, seemingly, in the 7th round was an absolute steal.