Carolina position analysis: Offensive line

Part 5 of my position-by-position analysis of the Carolina Panthers' roster focuses on an area that overcame the most injuries for a respectable showing during the 2013 season.

Next up: Offensive line

2013 grade: C-plus. Considering there were six different starters between the two guard spots and that the team ranked near the top 10 in rushing was commendable. But they gave up four or more sacks in five games, including their playoff loss, so it was far from great.

Under contract (2014 salary cap number): C Ryan Kalil ($10,400,000), G Amini Silatolu ($1,346,483), G Edmund Kugbila ($609, 114), G Nate Chandler ($485,600), C Brian Folkerts ($495,000), T Travis Bond (495,000). Total: ($13,831,197)

Key free agents: T Jordan Gross, T Byron Bell (RFA), G Travelle Wharton, G Geoff Hangartner, T Bruce Campbell, Chris Scott

Good news: Having a Pro Bowl player such as Kalil in the middle is a good place to start. The return of injured players such as Silatolu and Kubila will strengthen the team at guard and put less pressure on Carolina to sign a few older veterans that are free agents.

Bad news: Left tackle Jordan Gross eliminated the final year (2014) on his contract last season to help the Panthers free up money under the salary cap. Now the team has to find a way to get its veteran leader to return for a 12th season. If he decides to retire, which is a possibility, that leaves a gaping hole on the left side and increases the likelihood Carolina uses the 28th pick of the draft on a tackle. Even if Gross returns the Panthers need a future replacement for him. It wouldn't be such a bad thing to have Gross on the right side and a young star on the left. Starting right tackle Byron Bell was adequate at best.

The draft: ESPN draft analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay seem convinced the Panthers will pick a wide receiver with their first-round pick. I still argue for the same reason I gave above that a tackle, if one of the top five or six falls to 28th, makes more sense. Even if Gross returns, it's only for another year or two. Quarterback Cam Newton needs long-time protection on his blind side.