This series is about how to bring the Panthers back to relevance sooner, rather than later. In part one, you learned about some of the cuts that should be coming, to help the Panthers gain some salary cap space. In part two, I will give my opinion on who Carolina should re-sign and who they should let walk.
Players to Re-sign
Boston has done nothing but prove himself as a capable safety for the last four years. At 27 years old, he has yet to sign that second long term deal, and he deserves some stabilty. He has been nickel and dimed by a league that doesn’t place a lot of value on the safety position. In 2019, Boston had 68 tackles, 11 passes defended and 3 interceptions. He has become one of the best coverage safeties in the league, and Pro Football Focus gave him a grade of 76.4 for the year. That’s the fourth best grade for the entire team, behind McCaffrey, Kuechly and Moore. It’s Boston’s time for a deal that locks him up for a few years.
Potential contract: 3 years – $19.5m
Cockrell was signed in 2018, but didn’t get to play until last season. He broke two bones in his leg and was put the entire 18-19 season. Depending on what type of defense the Panthers will run, Cockrell could be a solid target to re-sign. He is two years removed from being the number one zone corner in the league. In 2017, he allowed a QB rating of 13.8 and a completion percentage of 35% while being targeted in zone coverage. At 28 years old, Cockrell will be 100% healthy and a solid candidate to re-sign. The Panthers may want to sign him to a one year deal for depth at a position that may be a little thin, depending on whether or not the team re-signs Bradberry.
Potential contract: 1 year – $3.5m
Elliott played fairly well in his first year as a Panther. Pro Football Focus grades him at 67.2, which was best among Panthers’ corners and second best in the Panthers’ secondary behind Tre Boston. Elliott played 34% of the defensive snaps and had 38 tackles, 2 pass break-ups, 1 interception and a half of a sack. He’s a versatile corner who played primarily at nickel in 2019. Depending on whether or not the team re-signs Bradberry, Elliott could be in line to see even more playing time. Either way, Carolina could use Elliott as depth.
Potential Contract: 2 years – $3.5m
Even though the Panthers’ defensive unit underwhelmed last season, Gerald McCoy played fairly well. Pro Football Focus gave McCoy a grade of 72, which was second highest on the defensive line. McCoy is versatile enough to play both inside and outside, which will provide Phil Snow a solid player to move around the line. Luke Kuechly’s retirement left the Panthers needing some leadership on the defensive side of the ball. McCoy has the experience to be a leader, and that’s something this team needs right now. It would benefit Carolina to bring him back, that is, if he wants to. McCoy wanted to go to a contender, and he may feel like Carolina isn’t the right fit anymore.
Potential Contract: 2 years – $17m
Greg Van Roten
Van Roten was one of the most consistent offensive linemen that the Panthers had in 2019, until he got injured. While he might be looking for a lot more money in free agency, it would be in Carolina’s best interest to see if he wants to stick around. Quality depth on the offensive line is a must, no matter who is playing quarterback. GVR got a grade of 65.6 from Pro Football Focus, which is well above average.
Potential Contract: 2 years – $6m
This one might make little sense to a lot of people, but the Panthers could use some more depth on the edge. Irvin played pretty well last season, when he finally got healthy. Also, his leadership could go a long way for this team. Especially, if the Carolina fails to bring back Gerald McCoy. The Panthers could let both walk this year so that they can add compensatory picks for next year, which is understandable. Personally, it might be best to bring both back on one year deals to help out all of these youngsters on the defense.
Potential Contract: 1 year – $4m
Who Carolina Should Let Walk
Everyone would agree that Williams is far removed from his All-Pro year. He was a liability on the offensive line all year, no matter what position he was playing. The Panthers shouldn’t waste their money.
Vern showed some flashes last season, but ultimately didn’t impress enough to waste money on him. As the 30th pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, he was supposed to be a solid starter by now. It’s time for him to go, but best of luck to him.
Mario has been really good in Carolina for awhile, but it’s time for a change. At 32 years old, he won’t be able to play at a high level for much longer. Nothing against Mario, but it’s a fact of life. With Addison going elsewhere, it gives Brian Burns an opportunity to start and showcase his skills. It honestly makes no sense for a team in a rebuild to sign a player like Addison.
This one won’t be popular with some fans…..The Panthers and Bradberry seem to be at an impasse in negotiations. Not to say a deal won’t get done before the new league year begins, but it’s not looking good.
Rumors are swirling that Bradberry wants north of $14m per year, but paying him that amount makes little sense. He has been very good during his time in Carolina, but he hasn’t played his way into top corner pay.
In regards to Bradberry’s market value, there are some things to consider:
• Travels with the number one receivers most of the time.
• Had 11 pass break-ups in 2019, which was good enough for 8th best.
• Only allowed 1 touchdown in 2019 and had 3 interceptions, which was good enough for 6th best.
• He allowed a passer rating of 86.6, which was good enough for 10th best.
• He only allowed 10.4 yards per reception, which was good enough for 11th best.
• He isn’t a ball hawk. 8 interceptions over four years isn’t jaw dropping.
• He allowed 68 catches (70th best) for 709 yards (54th best) in 2019.
• His Pro Football Focus grade for 2019 was 59.8, which is actually the worse grade of his career. PFF isn’t always the holy grail of grading systems, but it helps with the evaluation.
• 63.6% completion rate when targeted, which is 44th best.
• Doesn’t have adequate closing speed to catch up if he gets burned.
Bradberry has the skill set, length and talent to be a number one corner, but he hasn’t played his way into top five corner pay. He doesn’t deserve the $14m salary that he’s rumored to be wanting. If Carolina can get him to accept a $9m-$10m salary, (which I think is the sweet spot for a player of his caliber) they should re-sign him. If not, the Panthers should probably let him walk.
If he walks, the Panthers could net between a third and fourth round compensatory pick in 2021, depending on his salary, playing time and other variables in the formula. A third round compensatory pick would be good draft capital to move up and take the quarterback of the future. That is, unless the team decides to keep Cam Newton.
These are just moves that I feel will help the franchise moving forward. Paying Bradberry what he wants could prove to be detrimental to the building of a winner. It makes little sense to pay him that much money when the team has so many holes. To be honest, he’s not worth $14m. He’s still capable of being a starter in this league, but it can’t be for more than around $10m per year.
Thanks for taking the time to read this series and be on the lookout for part three. Part three will look at a few free agents that the Panthers could look at to bring them back to relevance in 2020. Also be on the lookout for our pre-Combine 4 Man Mock Drafts. #KeepPounding