The Carolina Panthers are just a year removed from a Super Bowl appearance. However, they had a disappointing 2016 season that resulted in a top 10 draft pick.
The Panthers had a few holes to fill this offseason and tried to correct them. Whether they did it the right way is another question.
Here are the three best moves and the worst one made by the Carolina Panthers this offseason.
#1. Brought back Captain Munnerlyn and Julius Peppers
Captain Munnerlyn and Julius Peppers were both drafted by the Panthers. Both spent at least the last three years with other squads. Both have been very good for the Panthers as well as their other squads.
Munnerlyn is the bigger addition. He excelled last season with the Minnesota Vikings at nickel cornerback. The cornerbacks for the Panthers were so bad last season that one player started one week and was cut before the next week of practice began. Munnerlyn will step in and start immediately as the team’s No. 1 cornerback. He will also serve as a mentor to the young second and first year players behind him on the depth chart.
Peppers could be seen as more of a nostalgic signing than football signing, but having a third pass rusher is a good thing for a team with young corners. He could even be a starter opposite Charles Johnson.
#2. Draft picks
The Panthers took advantage of having early draft picks. With three picks in the first two rounds, they grabbed three versatile players that can start sooner rather than later. Running back Christian McCaffrey can run and catch the ball. He is a four-down running back that can line up in the backfield or split out wide. He is the perfect running back for the way the NFL is played right now. Second round pick Curtis Samuel was drafted as a wide receiver, but has experience playing running back in college at Ohio State. He is another player that can line up anywhere on offense. The other second round pick, offensive lineman Taylor Moton, could be the first of the three to start. The Panthers got really bad play from their offensive line last season and Moton was quite good against NFL-caliber opponents at Western Michigan. The question is whether he plays right tackle or guard.
#3. Signed Russell Shepard
Signed away from their division rivals in Tampa Bay, Shepard is an underrated wide receiver and special teams player. With good size (6-1, 195) and athleticism, he is the perfect fit to run out of the slot with Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess on the outside clear space. He can also lineup on the outside opposite Benjamin. In fact, the best lineup by season’s end could be Benjamin and Shepard outside with Samuel working out of the slot. Shepard could also become quarterback Cam Newton’s favorite target. According to Panthers.com, his “energy and enthusiasm stood out from the get-go.”
The worst: Signed Matt Kalil
Matt Kalil was seen as a franchise-changing left tackle when the Vikings drafted him fourth overall in 2012. He was one of the league’s best that season in helping Adrian Peterson nearly surpass the single-season rushing record. However, his play has declined the past few seasons. Part of that could be due to injury, but his passive demeanor and declining performance created the impression that he did not want to become great.
The Panthers are betting that his older brother, Pro Bowl center Ryan, will help kick him in the butt and get him to play to his talent. This isn’t bad thinking; it's the financial side of the deal that's confusing. The Panthers signed Kalil to a five-year, $55.5 million contract with $31 million guaranteed, the most guaranteed money given to an offensive tackle this offseason. This is especially curious given that the best left tackle on the market was Andrew Whitworth, who got $15 million guaranteed from the Los Angeles Rams. It all adds up to an important year for both Kalil and the Panthers, who need to prove that their run toward the title wasn't a fluke.