Options for Panthers with guard with Andrew Norwell a 'tough' re-sign

Andrew Norwell developed into an All-Pro guard with the Panthers, but his price tag might be too high to keep. Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera said it will be “tough" to keep All Pro left guard Andrew Norwell in free agency. Among the competition to sign the 2014 undrafted rookie out of Ohio State will be the New York Giants, led by former Carolina general manager Dave Gettleman.

Otherwise, the line returns intact for 2018.

This brings us to the latest in a position-by-position analysis of the Panthers’ roster.

Next up: Offensive line

2017 grade: B

General manager Marty Hurney said the Panthers had one of the top five offensive lines in the NFL last season. The interior of the line was exceptional at times and the Panthers finished fourth in the NFL in rushing, even though quarterback Cam Newton was a huge part of that as the leading rusher. The play of left Matt Kalil, at times suspect, and the underwhelming yards per carry of Jonathan Stewart (3.4) and Christian McCaffrey (3.7) keeps this from being an A. Kalil’s 50.4 rating by Pro Football Focus wasn’t just the worst on the line, but the entire offense.

Under contract (2018 salary cap number): C Ryan Kalil $9,904,000; G Trai Turner $7,703,000; OT Matt Kalil $6,900,000; OT Daryl Williams $2,044,280; Taylor Moton $945,034; C-G Greg Van Roten $780,000; Blaine Causell $555,000; Dorian Johnson $480,000. Total: $29,311,314.

Key free agents: G Andrew Norwell UFA, G Amini Silatolu UFA, T David Yankey RFA; C-G Tyler Larsen exclusive rights.

The good: Everyone but Norwell will return, and the Panthers believe 2017 second-round pick Moton can make the transition from tackle to guard if Norwell indeed moves on. They have that luxury because right tackle Williams played so well, earning an outstanding grade of 85.5 from PFF. Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil, limited to only six starts last season because of a mysterious neck injury, should be 100 percent heading into what he already has said will be his final season. His younger brother Matt should be improved at left tackle with a year in the system.

The bad: The reality that Norwell, a player the Panthers developed into an All-Pro player, likely will move on because the price tag is going to be too high. Matt Kalil still hasn’t proven worthy of the five-year, $55.5 million deal he got in free agency last year, but the way his contract is structured the big hit ($12.9 million against the cap) won’t come until 2019. Otherwise, not much to complain about here.

The draft: Finding a center-guard to develop behind Ryan Kalil should be a priority. As well as Larsen played at times, the offense was better with Kalil. It wouldn’t totally surprise if the Panthers used the No. 24 overall pick on this position. Ohio State’s Billy Price, considered the top center-guard prospect, had a setback at the NFL combine when he suffered what he called an “incomplete pec tear." He would be expected to miss offseason workouts, but should be ready for training camp. Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn and Iowa’s James Daniels also are top prospects expected to go in the first two rounds. If the Panthers choose to wait to the middle rounds a player like LSU’s Will Clapp could be a possibility.

Final thought: It appears Norwell will move on unless he wants to stay with the Panthers enough to give them a bargain. Don’t count on it. And the Panthers spent too much this past offseason in signing Matt Kalil and re-signing Turner to commit another huge cap number to the line, particularly with Ryan Kalil set to count about $10 million in cap space. As mentioned above, the answer might be on the roster in Moton. Finding a center-guard to replace Ryan Kalil in 2019 is the more pressing need. Not convinced Larsen is that player.