The Carolina Panthers have addressed some areas of need so far this off-season, signing veteran defensive end Bruce Irvin, center Matt Paradis, and re-signing offensive tackle Daryl Williams. One position that remains untouched, however, is one in which Carolina struggled heavily last year: free safety.
Carolina Panthers Plans at Safety Remain Unclear
It is clear, however, that the position is arguably the biggest area of need for a team looking to rebound in 2019. After a strong 6-2 start in the 2018 season, the Panthers lost seven straight games, finishing with a disappointing record of 7-9. This left them with the 16th overall pick in the upcoming NFL Draft.
Despite this, it does not appear that general manager Marty Hurney will be looking to draft a safety in round one. Many experts agree that the team will be looking to draft an offensive lineman or an edge rusher. With such a deep class at both positions, Carolina would be set for the foreseeable future regardless of which position they choose to address.
At free safety, however, the Panthers seem to be unsure of what to do.
After choosing not to re-sign 38-year-old Mike Adams, who started at free safety for the team over the last two seasons, the Panthers have yet to address the position in free agency, as the bigger names available in free agency were well above their pay grade. Landon Collins, Tyrann Mathieu, Earl Thomas, Lamarcus Joyner, Adrian Amos, and even Tashaun Gipson all earned a pretty penny with their new contracts this off-season, and each contract was far beyond what the Panthers, with the limited amount of cap space that they have, would have been able to offer.
In an effort to create more cap space, the team cut oft-injured left tackle Matt Kalil, designating the move as a post-June cut, which will give Carolina $7.25 million in cap space – after June 1st. The team also recently restructured Luke Kuechly‘s contract, converting $9.05 million of his base salary into a signing bonus, which created $7.24 million in cap space. According to Over The Cap, the team only had $2.4 million in cap space before this move. Signing their draft picks will take around $4 million, so the team will once again be strapped for cash until June 2nd.
As of right now, there are a few safeties still available in free agency. The most notable two are former Chiefs safety Eric Berry and Tre Boston, who was drafted in the fourth round by Carolina back in 2014. Berry is more of a box safety, one who plays closer to the line of scrimmage. The team re-signed Eric Reid this off-season, so signing Berry would only give them a player similar to Reid. Boston was underwhelming during his time with the team but has improved after spending a few seasons with the Los Angeles Chargers and Arizona Cardinals. Should the team choose to sign a safety in free agency, Boston would make plenty of sense.
Despite most likely taking an edge rusher or an offensive tackle with their first-round pick, the Panthers are doing due diligence with the top safeties in the draft. They have met with former Washington Huskies safety Taylor Rapp and former Maryland Terrapins safety Darnell Savage. Both players are considered top prospects at the position, and if one falls to Carolina in round two, the team should be licking at their chops to take one.
There is a third possibility, one that head coach Ron Rivera has said multiple times throughout his tenure with Carolina: “The answer is on the roster.” The Panthers drafted Rashaan Gaulden in the third round of last year’s draft, and he did not see much playing time during the 2018 season. With Adams gone, however, now is Gaulden’s chance to prove himself. The team also has Da’Norris Searcy on the roster, but he was lost to injured reserve during 2018. He, too, will be looking to show the team what he is made of. If Carolina chooses to stand pat at the free safety position, these two could be battling for the starting spot.
What will the Carolina Panthers do at the free safety position? No one knows. One thing is for certain: the team needs serious help at the position if they hope to return to the playoffs in 2019.