Was Matt Rhule a symptom or the disease for the Carolina Panthers in 2022? It’s instructive that as soon as he was fired, the Panthers started playing much better.
Was it enough for Steve Wilks to keep his job? We discuss and break down free agents, cut candidates, and team needs in our Carolina Panthers offseason preview.
Carolina Panthers Offseason Preview: Brighter Days Ahead?
Here’s the thing about the Panthers, who were in playoff contention far longer than anyone could have reasonably expected this year:
The NFC South is theirs for the taking for the foreseeable future.
Things are ugly in Tampa Bay and New Orleans, and the Falcons have the same question the Panthers do: Who’s their quarterback long-term?
Could Carolina get by with Sam Darnold for another year? Sure. He was the best of the three-headed monster the Panthers used in 2022. (Baker Mayfield and P.J. Walker were the other heads.)
But David Tepper seems like a go-big or go-home type of owner, so we don’t see him simply settling for another go-around with Wilks and Darnold.
That doesn’t mean that isn’t the combo we see in Charlotte next year. It just means Tepper — whose team will again pick in the top 10 in the NFL draft — will take a long look at his options before landing on that option.
Panthers’ 2023 Salary Cap Space
According to Spotrac, the Panthers, as of early January, were $1.8 million under the 2023 salary cap, the 12th-worst situation in the NFL.
That figure includes $28.6 million in dead cap and $10.3 million in rollover space. It’s based on an estimated $225 million NFL salary cap in 2023.
The exact cap figure will not be known until the NFL announces it in early March.
Panthers Free Agents 2023
The following Panthers players are set to hit free agency. (Restricted free agents are noted with the abbreviation RFA; exclusive rights free agents by ERFA.)
- C Bradley Bozeman
- S Juston Burris
- S Sean Chandler
- QB Sam Darnold
- OT Cameron Erving
- RB D’Onta Foreman
- S Sam Franklin (RFA)
- CB Myles Hartsfield (RFA)
- WR Rashard Higgins
- DE Matthew Ioannidis
- LS J.J. Jansen
- G Michael Jordan
- CB Justin Layne
- ILB Cory Littleton
- K Eddy Pineiro
- FB Giovanni Ricci (ERFA)
- WR Andre Roberts
- WR Stephen Sullivan (ERFA)
- QB P.J. Walker (RFA)
Center Bradley Bozeman
Spotrac’s calculated market value: Three years, $36.1 million ($12 million AAV)
Overview: We think Spotrac’s valuation of Bozeman might be a little high, but there’s no question that he’ll have multiple suitors this offseason. Bozeman signed a one-year, bargain-basement contract with the Panthers back in the spring, and his insertion into the starting lineup corresponded with the team’s midseason reversal in fortunes.
Quarterback Sam Darnold
Spotrac’s calculated market value: Two years, $10.2 million ($5.1 million AAV)
Overview: At this point in his career, Darnold is what he is — and that’s OK. He’ll never be the league’s most accurate passer. But he’s more than capable enough to come in and hold down an offense for a few games in case a starter gets injured. If a team signs him to be a starter, it’ll be disappointed. But if there are realistic expectations, Darnold could be a valuable cog.
Potential Cut Candidates
- OLB Shaq Thompson ($13.2 million in savings)
- C Pat Elflein ($4.8 million)
- ILB Damien Wilson ($3.6 million)
Panthers’ Team Needs Heading Into 2023 Offseason
- Offensive Guard
- Wide Receiver
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