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News » Carolina Panthers Inside Slant 2009-04-10

Carolina Panthers Inside Slant 2009-04-10

Carolina Panthers Inside Slant 2009-04-10
What has undeniably been the slowest offseason in franchise history con

tinues as the Carolina Panthers remain quiet in the free-agent market.

The Panthers and Pittsburgh Steelers are the only two NFL teams who have yet to sign an unrestricted free agent from another team.

For the Panthers, the problem largely remains having to carry nearly $17 million in salary cap room for defensive end Julius Peppers and more than $11 million for quarterback Jake Delhomme.

At some point, the Panthers will need to add players. With the draft a few weeks away, here is a list of top priorities for the Panthers:

--Defensive end. Even if the Panthers twist Peppers' arm and force him to play here this season, they're going to need to find a replacement because he's clearly not in it for the long haul. And there's no such thing as having too many defensive ends. Tyler Brayton is a nice role player and Charles Johnson is improving, but the Panthers will need a legitimate pass rusher. If Peppers is traded, it only accentuates this need.

--Defensive tackle. The Panthers need some depth behind Maake Kemoeatu and Damione Lewis and if there is a position they'll almost certainly address early in the draft, it has to be this one. Ideally, Lewis would be more effective coming off the bench as a speed rusher on pass rushing downs. Observers wouldn't be surprised to see the Panthers spend a high draft pick on the position and then add a veteran player down the road. Last year, they signed two vets -- Ian Scott and Darwin Walker -- although neither really panned out as envisioned. As the season progressed, injuries hit and exposed the team's lack of depth.

--Cornerback. Richard Marshall was outstanding as a rookie, but he took some major steps back in the second half of last season. The Panthers are left with Chris Gamble and Marshall as starters following the release of Ken Lucas. Unproven C.J. Wilson is a backup but there are still a handful of proven veterans on the market.

--Offensive linemen. This is plural for a reason. The starting five is intact, but the Panthers lost their top three reserves, leaving them with only last year's seventh-round draft picks, Mackenzy Bernadeau and Geoff Schwartz. Both have a year in offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson's system, which is nice, but neither has played in an NFL game. The Panthers would likely be hesitant to count on them in a big game. At some point, the Panthers have to add a veteran insurance policy.

--Tight end. For years the Panthers have needed a tight end that can run fast and catch the football, but for some reason upper management hasn't addressed this need other than throwing fifth-round draft picks at the problem. Will the Panthers current regime address this situation in 2009? History suggests not. That means at some point someone has to explain why having a guy who can stretch the middle of the field wouldn't be a huge benefit for Steve Smith.

--Returner. Mark Jones wasn't the fastest returner by any stretch (he may have been one of the slowest) but he was consistent and improved. Now he's gone, having signed with Tennessee as a free agent, leaving return duties to Ryne Robinson and/or Kenny Moore. Robinson was a little hit-and-miss during his rookie season in 2007. And he's coming off a knee injury. If the Panthers can land a top-notch returner in the third round, they might pull the trigger.

--Long snapper. It's not a high-profile position, but there is something to be said for perfection -- which is all Jason Kyle has given the Panthers the past eight seasons. Kyle, a free agent, has been left twisting in the wind by the Panthers.

--Wide receiver. There are a lot of people who feel the Panthers need to upgrade at receiver. Why?

Smith is awesome and Mushin Muhammad is perfect for this offense because of his blocking ability. Why do you think DeAngelo Williams sprung so many long runs? Honestly, what needs to happen is Dwayne Jarrett to get out of his own head and step up and start playing like a man. Robinson should serve as the fourth receiver and since the Panthers never activate more than four receivers there really isn't a need for anyone else. Wouldn't a game-breaking tight end help more?

--Quarterback. Some Carolina fans will argue this is the team's top need. Sure, Jake Delhomme was horrendous vs. Arizona in the playoffs, but the Panthers also got away from their game plan because the defense couldn't stop the Cardinals' offense. The bottom line? Delhomme is a winner and this team's leader. I throw out this reminder: He's 49-30 as Carolina's starting quarterback in the regular season and 5-3 in the postseason. At 34, the team needs to begin thinking about a long-term replacement, but he'll be fine as a starter for the next few years.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: April 10, 2009

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Jason Baker Name: Jason Baker
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