Does Matt Moore fit into Carolina's future? We'll find out soon. (Photo by John Clark)
CHARLOTTE – Will Charles Johnson be back next season with the Carolina Panthers?
Will DeAngelo Williams be carrying the load for the Panthers next season, or will he look for greener pastures (literally) in Denver or Miami? Will the Panthers re-sign core linebackers Thomas Davis and James Anderson, or do tight end Dante Rosario and cornerback Richard Marshall represent more pressing needs for a team coming off a 2-14 season?
And what will Matt Moore do now that the Panthers have drafted Cam Newton -- re-sign or look for a starting gig elsewhere?
Panthers general manager Marty Hurney has said his goal is to keep the team’s core group of players intact, but how much will he be willing to spend in free agency to do it?
We breakdown all of these questions and take an educated guess as to which free agents will re-sign once the lockout officially ends and new league year begins.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS:
1. DE Charles Johnson: GM Marty Hurney said the Panthers are committed to re-signing their core players and Johnson has to be at the top of the list, especially given how difficult it is to find defensive ends like Johnson who can rush the passer and stop the run. It’s time to find out if Hurney is ready to put his money where his mouth is. Johnson is a pressing need and, in my estimation, more important to re-sign than RB DeAngelo Williams. Why? Because the Panthers are deep at running back, but not so much at defensive end. Sporting News has Williams ranked as the second best unrestricted free agent coming out and Johnson as the 10th best. A lot of people will be absolutely stunned by the money Johnson commands in the free agent market. His contract could be worth more than $40 million. The Panthers won’t let him get away without a fight, that's for sure. Chance of re-signing: 80 percent.
2. RB DeAngelo Williams: Tough decision here. Williams has a few more good years left in him, but he’s also approaching 30 which is when running backs tend to fizzle out. This is Williams’ last chance for a big contract so you can’t blame him if he wants to bolt and take the best deal available. On the flip side, he likes playing with fellow RB Jonathan Stewart and loves the Panthers organization in general. Look for the Panthers to make a run at re-signing Williams, but the big question will be how much are they willing to spend for a 28-year-old running back when they have other solid options in Stewart, Mike Goodson and Tyrell Sutton? My gut instinct tells me Williams gets a nice deal and re-signs, but quite frankly this could go either way. Chance of re-signing: 60 percent.
3. QB Matt Moore: You have to wonder why Moore would consider re-signing a long-term deal here, especially with Cam Newton and Jimmy Clausen waiting in the wings. If Moore gets a legit chance to compete for a starting job elsewhere look for him to take it. If that happens, the Panthers would consider bringing in a veteran quarterback. Chance of re-signing: 25 percent.
4. LB Thomas Davis: The way Davis has been talking this offseason it’s almost like he has a handshake deal in place with the Panthers. I fully believe he’ll be back, but the Panthers have to be careful not to overpay for a guy coming off two consecutive season-ending torn ACLs. When healthy he’s one of the more impressive weak side linebackers in the league. You just have to wonder if he can stay healthy after missing the last season-and-a-half with injuries. Chance of re-signing: 90 percent.
5. LB James Anderson: Anderson had a breakout season with 154 tackles a year ago, which is more than he had in his previous four seasons combined. That said it’s not that difficult to find a strong side linebacker, so the Panthers won’t overpay. Hurney likes to keep his core guys and Anderson is clearly one. As long as Anderson doesn’t out-price himself he will likely be given an opportunity to return. Chance of re-signing: 65 percent.
6. TE Dante Rosario: Sure, the Panthers signed free agent Jeremy Shockey before the lockout, but Rosario would be crazy to switch teams now that the Panthers will finally integrate the tight end into the offense – something he’s been waiting for years. Remember, Shockey, 30, is only signed for one year, so Rosario has a chance to be a big part of the offense in the future here, sort of like his idol Antonio Gates in San Diego. The big question will be if the Panthers have another free agent tight end mind to pair with Shockey or if they think Rosario can handle that role. Chance of re-signing: 70 percent.
7. CB Richard Marshall: All signs point to Marshall leaving town. In fact, he said after last season’s finale against Atlanta that the Panthers have told his agent they weren’t interested in re-signing him. I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate. It may have been Marshall expressing frustration over not getting a new deal from the Panthers before the lockout. Remember, the Panthers weren’t re-signing anyone to long-term contracts last winter until the new CBA was resolved. If the money is right Marshall might return, but something tells me he’s going to take a long, hard look at the free agent market and try to cash in with a big contract elsewhere. Chance of re-signing: 20 percent
8. TE Jeff King: King is a very good player and a great locker room leader, but he simply doesn’t fit in this offense anymore – not with the way the team intends to use the tight ends more as downfield receiving threats. Kings is not all that fast and does have great YAC numbers (yards after the catch). Don’t be surprised if he ends up in Denver with John Fox, who still favors old-fashioned smash mouth football. Chance of re-signing: 20 percent.
9. DT Derek Landri: He was asked to start last season and played decent enough, but he’s better suited as a spot role player. The Panthers just drafted a pair of defensive tackles in the third round so re-signing Landri is not a huge priority. That doesn’t mean they won’t try to bring him back. Landri a try-hard guy who plays every down like it’s his last. You can never challenge this kid’s effort, that’s for sure. He just doesn’t have all of the great physical tools. Chance of re-signing: 33.3 percent.
10. CB Marcus Hudson: He carved out a nice niche as a special teams player last season, but each special teams coordinator has his own players he likes and doesn’t like, making this a complete toss-up. Chance of re-signing: 45 percent.
11. K Rhys Lloyd: Speaking of special teams, it will be interesting to see how the new rule that moves up kickoffs from the 30-yard to the 35 will affect Lloyd. In one respect, you might not need him anymore. On the other hand, having him would almost ensure a touchback most of the time, which is an intriguing option. Chance of re-signing: 50 percent.
12. CB CJ Wilson: He hasn’t played much and it’s hard to imagine the Panthers going out of their way to bring him back. Chance of re-signing: 10 percent.
13. QB Brian St. Pierre: He was a one-year fill-in and John Fox’s way of sticking it to the organization by starting him over rookie Tony Pike. St. Pierre is a good guy and was a good story last year, but it’s probably time he retires. Chance of re-signing: 0 percent.
Restricted Free Agents (players with three years of NFL experience, giving the Panthers the right of first refusal): WR David Clowney, LB Jordan Senn and LS J.J. Jansen.
Exclusive Rights Free Agents (players with two years of NFL experience, giving the Panthers exclusive negotiating rights): QB Keith Null, WR Charly Martin, OL C.J. Davis, LB Nic Harris, NT Nick Hayden and DT Ed Johnson.