It was clear from the onset of the offseason that Panthers GM Scott Fitterer wanted to reshape the offensive line. In free agency they were able to sign Bradley Bozeman, a center that the Ravens desperately wanted back, and Austin Corbett who just won a Super Bowl with the Los Angeles Rams.
In the months leading up to the draft, there was a lot of talk about Carolina drafting a quarterback with the sixth overall pick despite the QB class not being very strong. They did choose one, just not until the third round when they took Matt Corral out of Ole Miss. Instead, they took arguably the best player in the draft, offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu.
No one expected Ekwonu to make it to the Panthers at six, including Fitterer and head coach Matt Rhule. With him still on the board, it was a no-brainer. As important as it is to find a franchise quarterback, it's just about as important to have a franchise left tackle. Since Jordan Gross retired following the 2013 season, the Panthers have had a rotating door at the position. Sixteen different players have started at left tackle and not one of them has been able to keep the job for two consecutive years. Drafting Ickey Ekwonu fixes that problem and all of a sudden, the Panthers have something brewing up front.
Now that left tackle is taken care of, we look at the remaining two issues with this roster - quarterback and edge rusher. With the first wave of free agency and the 2022 NFL Draft now behind us, most of the game-changing players are no longer available. That said, there are still some big names that are still on the free agent market or could be made available via trade.
Potential targets: Jimmy Garoppolo (via trade), Baker Mayfield (via trade), Cam Newton (free agent), Nick Foles (free agent).
It's starting to look more and more like the Panthers will have Sam Darnold on the roster. If no team is willing to bite the bullet on Jimmy Garoppolo or Baker Mayfield's salary, what makes you think they would for Darnold? In order to move Darnold, the Panthers would have to pay most, if not all of his 2022 salary and that's just not something Scott Fitterer would feel comfortable with. If he's going to get paid, you might as well have him on the roster, right?
Bringing in Garoppolo or Mayfield via trade doesn't do much, in my opinion. Neither are going to make this team a true player in the NFC South in 2022 or in the future. So what should the Panthers do? They should hope that Sam Darnold is pushed by Corral and at some point throughout the season Corral takes over as the starter. If that doesn't happen, then you'll have an opportunity to take a quarterback in a much stronger class next spring. There's no need to force a quarterback right now, especially when the available options are not going to increase your chances of winning dramatically.
Potential targets: Jadeveon Clowney (free agent), Carl Nassib (free agent), Akiem Hicks (free agent), Benson Mayowa (free agent).
Unlike the quarterback position, this is something the Panthers can address. They may not land Clowney and if so, it's not the end of the world. They just need to add another body to that group of pass rushers. Given Yetur Gross-Matos' injury history, the Panthers can not afford to go into the season banking on this being the year he stays on the field.
Marquis Haynes Sr. and Frankie Luvu can generate some pressure, but will it be enough to keep teams from doubling Brian Burns? That's the big issue here. Burns is a remarkable talent, but he's going to have a hard time getting to the quarterback if there's not at least a respectable presence on the opposite side.
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