CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- With offseason workouts and minicamps in the rearview mirror and training camps just a few weeks away, we assess the Carolina Panthers' offseason moves and assign a letter grade in the video above:
Best move: Signing quarterback Cam Newton to a five-year, $103.8 million extension. The last thing the Panthers and Newton wanted was the distraction of being questioned all season about when a deal might get done, something Seattle’s Russell Wilson apparently will face. By committing to Newton early with a deal that for the most part is salary-cap-friendly, the Panthers can focus on improving the roster around Newton and locking up other key players such as linebacker Luke Kuechly. Newton can focus on improving mechanics that have kept him from being an elite quarterback without worry about his future. Newton assures Carolina has at worst a top-15 quarterback -- and potentially a top-10 one -- through 2020. Playoff teams typically have stability at quarterback. Carolina has stability now.
Riskiest move: Hate to sound like a broken record, but committing to Michael Oher as the starting left tackle. Oher hasn't played a full season at left tackle since the 2012 season at Baltimore. He struggled the past two seasons at right tackle between the Ravens (2013) and Tennessee Titans (2014). He insists that a toe injury and a difference in opinion on philosophy hampered him last season. He insists that the toe is healed and that being reunited with former Baltimore line coach John Matsko will allow him to excel. It’s still a gamble when you consider Oher has to protect the blind side of Newton, who has been hit almost twice as many times as any other quarterback in the NFL since 2011.
Going big: Some criticized the Panthers for not selecting a speed receiver to play opposite 2014 first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin, who goes 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds. Adding another big receiver in Michigan's Devin Funchess (6-4, 225) seemed to go against conventional wisdom. But the Panthers felt comfortable with the speed they had in 2014 undrafted rookie Corey Brown and Ted Ginn Jr., the team's deep threat in 2013 before spending a season in Arizona. Adding Funchess gives Newton another big target -- and he often needs big targets with his high throws -- and potentially creates mismatches against smaller defensive backs. The Panthers can go bigger than some small college frontcourts with Benjamin, Funchess and Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen (6-5). That Funchess can play all three receiver positions makes him that much more valuable in spreading defenses and keeping teams from stacking up against the run as they did last season.
Training camp outlook: There are far fewer questions than a year ago, when the Panthers were replacing both offensive tackles and their top four wide receivers. Most of the focus will be on left tackle and the defensive end opposite Charles Johnson. You can learn only so much in the offseason when teams aren't in pads. Camp will be the proving point for Oher at left tackle. It will be a good sign if he can hold up against Carolina's stout front. The search for an every-down end to replace Greg Hardy continues. Keep an eye on Frank Alexander and Kony Ealy.