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2024 Free Agency Preview: Biggest Positional Needs For The Carolina Panthers

Bryce Young - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, Waiver Wire Pickups

The Carolina Panthers' 2023 season couldn't have gone much worse. No. 1 pick Bryce Young struggled mightily for Carolina while second overall pick C.J. Stroud won Offensive Rookie of the Year for the Texans. Head coach Frank Reich was fired before the season ended. If Quentin Johnston didn't exist, Jonathan Mingo would be recognized as the biggest receiver bust of the 2023 NFL Draft. The signing of Miles Sanders looks to be a complete waste of money. D.J. Moore had the best season of his career in his first year away from Carolina. They finished with the worst record in the NFL, granting them the first overall pick, a pick they've already dealt to the Bears as part of the trade to select Young and trade away Moore. Bad went to worse, which became catastrophic.

Previous Divisional Editions breaking down each team's 2023 season, their offseason assets, and their top-three positional needs going into the 2024 NFL season can be found here:

The Panthers are now essentially starting over again. They've had to hire a new head coach and a new offensive coordinator in hopes of turning around Young's career. No player's career is ever done after just one season, but Young's first year was bad enough -- we're talking Zach Wilson levels of bad -- that having questions about his future is at least understandable even though he just completed Year 1. If you want to take advantage of all of our great premium tools, please use promo code "BOOM" to receive a 10% discount. 

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers won two writing awards and received 12 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. A big congrats to our very own Byron Lindeque (Golf) and Jordan McAbee (NASCAR) for both winning Writer Of The Year awards! Be sure to follow RotoBaller's analysis and advice all year long, and win more. Win More With RotoBaller!

Season Review and Offseason Assets

Very few teams are in such a bad spot as the Carolina Panthers. They finished 2-15 last year and should have the first overall pick, but traded this pick last offseason to move up to the first pick last year to select Bryce Young. They hired former Super Bowl-winning coach Frank Reich to develop Young and it didn’t take long for everything to implode. Reich was fired before completing his first season.

At the time of his firing, the team was 1-10. They’ve since hired Dave Canales, who was the offensive coordinator for Tampa Bay last year. Before that, he had been the quarterbacks coach in Seattle. His work revitalizing the careers of Geno Smith and Baker Mayfield certainly caught the front office’s eyes. He brought along Brad Idzik, who had been the receivers coach in Tampa Bay, and made him the offensive coordinator in Carolina.

Carolina finished 31st in points scored and 32nd in yards gained. Despite having the 13th-most pass attempts last season, they finished 32nd in passing yards and 30th in passing touchdowns. Two of their 13 passing touchdowns were thrown by Andy Dalton. That is mind-numbing bad efficiency to have that many attempts with so little production. Their defense finished with a very odd season. They were 29th in points allowed, but fourth in yards given up. Canales opted to keep Ejiro Evero in his same role as defensive coordinator.

The Panthers have around $40 million in cap space. Among their top-15 cap hits for the 2023 season, none of them can be cut before June 1 and save more than $5 million. Tackle Taylor Moton has a $29.7 million cap hit and he could be a candidate to restructure to get more cap space. Without designating some of their top earners as a post-June 1 cut, Carolina doesn’t have any easy cuts to generate more cap space. For a team so devoid of talent, it’s certainly not ideal.

Carolina owns the No. 33 (second-rounder), No. 65 (third-rounder), No. 101 (fourth-rounder), No. 140 (fifth-rounder), No. 164 (fifth-rounder), and No. 179 (sixth-rounder) overall picks in this year’s NFL Draft. Combining Carolina’s lack of talent, minimal cap space, and flexibility, along with their little draft capital, makes this rebuild a tough trek. It will likely be another long season in Carolina.

 

Biggest Needs

1. Wide Receiver

Canales is an offensive guru. Idzik is a former receivers coach. They both know that if this is to work in Carolina, it all starts with Bryce Young.  He cannot be expected to be successful with their current group of receivers. Their best receiver was 33-year-old (soon to be 34) Adam Thielen. He finished with 137 targets, 103 receptions, 1,014 yards, and four touchdowns. Thielen was much better than I expected him to be, but he’ll turn 34 this year. Their second and third receivers in terms of snaps and targets were Jonathan Mingo and D.J. Chark. They combined for 151 targets, 78 receptions, 943 yards, and five touchdowns.

There were 80 receivers with at least 50 targets last season. Mingo finished 79th and Chark finished 72nd in PFF’s receiving grade. Mingo finished 79th with a 0.78 yards per route run average and Chark was 69th at 1.08. Mingo was 80th in yards per target at 4.9 and Chark was 42nd at 8.0. Mingo caught just 51.8% of his targets, which was 79th, and Chark caught just 56.5% of his targets, which was 71st. They were both atrocious.

2. Pass-Rusher

Brian Burns has had his name in the trade rumor mill for the last two years. He’s now set to hit free agency this offseason, assuming Carolina does not franchise him. To franchise tag him, Burns would receive $21.9 or $23.3 million depending on his positional distinction, linebacker or defensive end.

I believe Carolina will let Burns test the open market. Yetur Gross-Matos is also a free agent. Burns had 8.5 sacks last season to lead the team and Gross-Matos finished third with 4.5. Frankie Luvu was the only other player with more than two sacks. Luvu is also a free agent.

Carolina finished dead last in the NFL with just 27 sacks and now they have three players who combined for 18.5 of those set to hit free agency. Luvu was their inside linebacker, whereas Burns and Gross-Matos were their edge-rushers in their 3-4 system, so we’ll be focusing on Burns and Gross-Matos.

Burns and Gross-Matos had 16 quarterback knockdowns (36% of the team’s total), 12.5 sacks (46% of the team’s total), and 32 pressures (35% of the team’s total). Together, they played 1,280 snaps. Even if the team decides to franchise or re-sign Burns, this is still their most glaring need after wide receiver.

3. Linebacker

You could’ve gone with cornerback, running back, defensive line, or guard. Any of them would have been justifiable. This roster is in such big trouble. We will focus on the linebacker position here just because of how many free agents they have.

As previously mentioned, Luvu is a free agent. Deion Jones and Kamu Grugier-Hill are also free agents. These three players logged 1,706 snaps last season. Shaq Thompson was expected to be one of their starting inside linebackers, but he played just two games before landing on injured reserve. He’ll be 30 this season.

Luvu, Jones, and Grugier-Hill combined for 216 tackles, 16 tackles for a loss, 7.5 sacks, 13 quarterback hits, 13 pass deflections, and two interceptions. Given Thompson’s age and injury status, he could be one of the players designated as a post-June 1 cut, which would leave Carolina with virtually no one under contract at inside linebacker. Some of the other positions mentioned before as alternative options might be more premium spots, but Carolina is poised to completely turn over this spot.

4. Other Positions of Need: Cornerback, Running Back, Defensive Line. I could keep going, they are in trouble.

 

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