6. CAROLINA PANTHERS (5-12)
LAST SEASON: The Panthers suffered through another five-win season under Matt Rhule, leaving the third-year coach squarely on the hot seat. A major problem has been Carolina’s inability to land a franchise quarterback. After moving on from Teddy Bridgewater following the 2021 season, the Panthers sent three draft picks to the New York Jets for Sam Darnold. But Darnold has disappointed in Carolina. Cam Newton was brought back midseason, but went 0-5 as the starter as past shoulder issues continued to limit his ability as a passer. Carolina went all in this offseason trying to land Deshaun Watson, but came up short. Darnold and P.J. Walker are currently the only QBs on Carolina’s roster. Baker Mayfield and Jimmy Garoppolo remain options at quarterback if the Panthers decide against taking Liberty’s Malik Willis or Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett with the No. 6 pick. Trading out of the sixth spot and adding draft picks remains an option, too.
FREE AGENCY/TRADES: Lost RB Ameer Abdullah, LBs Jermaine Carter and Haason Reddick, CB Stephon Gilmore and DT DaQuan Jones. Released CB A.J. Bouye, DE Morgan Fox. Signed C Bradley Bozeman, G Austin Corbett, RB D’Onta Foreman, P Johnny Hekker, WR Rashad Higgins, DT Matt Ionnidis, LBs Corey Littleton and Damien Wilson, CB Chris Westry and S Xavier Woods. Re-signed Ss Juston Burris and Sean Chandler, K Zane Gonzalez, DE Marquis Haynes, CBs Donte Jackson and Rashaan Melvin, LS J.J. Jansen, LB Frankie Luvu and Julian Stanford, FB Giovanni Ricci, TE Ian Thomas, QB P.J. Walker and WR Brandon Zylstra. Extended: WR D.J. Moore.
THEY NEED: QB, OT, Edge rusher, LB, TE.
THEY DON’T NEED: RB, WR, CB, S.
POSSIBLE FIRST PICK: Alabama OT Evan Neal; Liberty QB Malik Willis; Pitt QB Kenny Pickett; Oregon DE Kayvon Thibodeaux.
OUTLOOK: GM Scott Fitterer knows his team has two glaring holes to fill: quarterback and left tackle. The team also could use an edge rusher to replace Haason Reddick, who left via free agency after recording 11 sacks last year. Finding a quarterback is the first priority though given it is the most important position in sports. Left tackle is a close second. The Panthers added Corbett and Bozeman to shore up the interior line, but a blindside protector remains a need. The Panthers have not used a first-round draft pick on an offensive tackle since Jeff Otah in 2008. They don’t have picks in the second or third rounds, making it tough to fill multiple needs.
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