<
>

Panthers show patience in free agency

To Carolina Panthers followers who felt like the first day of free agency was like looking under the Christmas tree and seeing no presents, lighten up.

It was no different a year ago, and things turned out well.

Carolina's only early signing in 2013 was veteran cornerback Drayton Florence, who later was released in training camp only to be re-signed during the season due to injuries. The Panthers signed him the day after free agency opened.

They didn't sign another player until cornerback D.J. Moore eight days into silly season. The first significant signing, as it turned out, was safety Mike Mitchell nine days in.

Chase Blackburn, who wound up starting at outside linebacker, was almost a month into the process before he signed.

General manager Dave Gettleman, in part because he's strapped under the salary cap once again and in part because he doesn't want to overspend on pricey free agents, appears comfortable letting the first wave or two of free agency pass before jumping into the show.

He's looking for bargains, diamonds in the rough he believes the team can win with.

I still believe Carolina will make a run at Hakeem Nicks, primarily because the free agent from the New York Giants mentioned Carolina as one of three teams he'd like to play for. The other two are Indianapolis and San Diego.

If Nicks really wants to play for his hometown team, he might have to take less money from the Panthers than he might get from another team.

Getting him would make the decision to cut wide receiver Steve Smith easier if that's what the team still intends to do. That entire situation remains unsettled.

One thing is certain: Quarterback Cam Newton can't go into 2014 without a veteran receiver, and without Smith, the team's top four wide receivers from last season are not under contract.

Among those, Domenik Hixon reportedly is in discussions with the Chicago Bears and Ted Ginn Jr. has drawn interest from Kansas City and Arizona.

Cornerback Asante Samuel could be this year's Florence. He's 33, but played on two Super Bowl teams for New England and was a starter for four seasons (2008-2011) in Philadelphia when Carolina defensive coordinator Sean McDermott was there.

Arizona Cardinals corner Antoine Cason also could be a possibility. A first-round draft pick by San Diego in 2008, he played under Carolina coach Ron Rivera and secondary/pass defense coordinator Steve Wilks while they were with the Chargers.

So if you feel like you missed Christmas, just pretend it's coming a few days late.

... In case you missed it, cornerback James Dockery announced on Twitter late last night that he will be returning to Carolina.