The 2021 edition of the Carolina Panthers will have a much different look as several newcomers will make up a big part of the starting 11 on both sides of the football. New GM Scott Fitterer had a very successful offseason by signing quality free agents, drafting well (we believe), and striking a deal to land QB Sam Darnold.
With much of the offseason moves now behind us, we grade how Fitterer did in his first offseason as the Panthers' GM.
FREE AGENCY: B-
On the offensive side of the ball, Carolina signed OT Cameron Erving, TE Dan Arnold, OL Pat Elflein, and WR David Moore. Arnold and Moore are solid pickups but I was a little surprised the Panthers didn't make more of an effort to sign a better offensive lineman. Instead, they brought in two guys that have had well-documented struggles but have the ability to be good. The offensive line was one area I felt they neglected in free agency despite signing two veterans. On the defensive side, they got much better. They filled a lot of glaring holes by signing DE Morgan Fox, DE/LB Haason Reddick, LB Denzel Perryman, LB Frankie Luvu, CB A.J. Bouye, and CB Rashaan Melvin. Although several of these guys are still young, they all have experience in the league and are considered upgrades.
Initially, I thought the Panthers made a mistake by passing up on Ohio State QB Justin Fields. However, as the draft unfolded, I began to like the Jaycee Horn pick more and more. This gives the Panthers a lockdown man-to-man corner that plays with aggression and brings some swagger to the defense. GM Scott Fitterer did a tremendous job of letting the board fall to him and selecting guys later than they were expected to go such as WR Terrace Marshall (LSU), RB Chuba Hubbard, DT Daviyon Nixon (Iowa), and OG Deonte Brown (Alabama). Carolina came into the draft with a plan and filled a lot of needs while also establishing depth at several spots on the roster to make it more complete.
The only trade the Panthers made this offseason was the one that acquired QB Sam Darnold from the New York Jets. Carolina gave up a 2021 6th round pick, a 2022 2nd round pick, and a 2022 4th round pick. With all the trading back that Fitterer did during draft weekend, the team accumulated several picks and ultimately got back what they gave up for Darnold which is why I graded this trade so high. If Darnold turns out to be the answer at quarterback, then Fitterer will look like a genius and this will be changed to an A+.
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