Panthers' roster taking shape, but it still has holes at S, TE and backup QB

Bills to lock in Lotulelei with 5-year deal (0:43)

Adam Schefter and Louis Riddick weigh in on the Bills picking up former Panthers DT Star Lotulelei when free agency opens. (0:43)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers so far have filled needs at defensive end, cornerback and wide receiver through free agency and a trade.

They’re still in the market for a tight end to play opposite Pro Bowler Greg Olsen. The Seattle Seahawks' Luke Wilson reportedly was headed to Charlotte on Wednesday night for a visit, so the answer could be there. A starting free safety is the most gaping hole in addition to a backup for quarterback Cam Newton.

Here’s a look at what the Panthers have done so far:

• Re-signed DE Julius Peppers -- 1 year, $5 million, $2.5 million guaranteed.

• Signed free-agent cornerback Bashaud Breeland -- 3 years, $24 million, $11 million guaranteed.

• Traded with the Philadelphia Eagles for receiver Torrey Smith -- $5 million against the salary cap in 2018, ’19.

Here's a look at their roster after Wednesday's official start of free agency:


Quarterback: Cam Newton obviously isn’t going anywhere, but who will back him up? Coach Ron Rivera has expressed an interest in keeping Derek Anderson, yet nothing has been done as the 34-year-old explores free agency. Almost for sure the team will use a mid- to late-round draft pick here to develop a quarterback as Newton’s possible down-the-road replacement.

Running back: Christian McCaffrey takes over as the featured back after the release of Jonathan Stewart, who signed with the New York Giants. Cameron Artis-Payne and Fozzy Whittaker remain on the roster, but look for Carolina to use a draft pick on McCaffrey’s complementary back.

Tight end: Greg Olsen will enter the last year of his contract. Carolina allowed backup Ed Dickson to hit free agency, but could re-sign him depending on what happens with other players. Upgrading that position and finding a potential future replacement for Olsen, who missed nine games with an injury this past season, remains a big need. There are a few free agents out there in Wilson and Eric Ebron.

Wide receiver: Devin Funchess will be either the No. 1 or No. 2 receiver, depending on what the staff builds around him. Right now it looks like a No. 1. Damiere Byrd is one of the options at depth.

Wide receiver: The trade for Smith for a cap number of $5 million seems like a bargain after the monster deals free agents Sammy Watkins and Allen Robinson received. He doesn’t feel like a No. 1. Look for Carolina to upgrade this position in the draft in either the first or second round.

Slot receiver: Curtis Samuel was selected in the second round last year to fill this role, but injuries kept him from becoming a factor. Until it’s clear he’ll be ready for training camp after surgery to repair ligament damage in his ankle this spot needs depth. Of course, McCaffrey can play here as well. He caught a team-best 80 passes a year ago.

Left tackle: Matt Kalil, the big free agent signing a year ago, is entrenched here. Depth is the focus now.

Left guard: Taylor Moton, selected a year ago in the second round to vie for the right tackle spot, will get a look here after Andrew Norwell signed with Jacksonville. This position will be one to watch throughout offseason workouts and camp.

Center: Ryan Kalil already has declared this will be his last season. He missed more than half the season last year with a neck injury, but the five-time Pro Bowl selection should be at full strength. Tyler Larsen and Greg Van Roten remain on the roster and both also can back up at guard (see above). Look for Carolina to possibly invest a draft pick on a long-term replacement for Kalil.

Right guard: Pro Bowler Trai Turner signed a long-term deal last year, so this position is solid.

Right tackle: Daryl Williams won this spot from Taylor Moton in training camp and was one of the pleasant surprises of 2017. Depth is the main issue here.


Defensive end: Julius Peppers was a key re-sign at a bargain price for a player that had 11 sacks last season. Time to develop a young end behind him since this is likely his last season.

Defensive tackle: Kawann Short signed his big deal a year ago and is a force in the middle. He could be backed up by Vernon Butler, the team’s 2016 first-round draft pick, if Butler doesn’t start.

Defensive tackle: Butler or TBD. Butler isn’t a space-eater like Star Lotulelei, who signed with Buffalo. He’s more like Short in his pass-rushing ability. Kyle Love could move into that space-eater role, but Carolina still needs to add a fourth tackle and perhaps one that could start. Don’t rule this out if one falls to 24 in the draft.

Defensive end: Mario Addison came into his own two seasons ago and got a big deal prior to last season. He responded with 11 sacks, tying Peppers for the team lead, and is showing he can be more of an every-down end. Wes Horton has become a solid part of the rotation.

Middle linebacker: Luke Kuechly when healthy is the best in the business. David Mayo is developing into a nice fill-in.

Weakside linebacker: Thomas Davis is entering the final year of his impressive career. He’ll likely be used less this season to stay fresh with the emergency of Shaq Thompson in nickel situations.

Strongside linebacker: Shaq Thompson appears ready to be the next Thomas Davis. Time to draft the next Shaq Thompson.

Left cornerback -- James Bradberry is starting to look more and more like the player that wore No. 24 before him (Josh Norman). He doesn’t quite take away half the field like Norman did or talk trash like him, but he’s solid.

Right cornerback: Breeland played opposite Norman the past two years at Washington. He shouldn’t feel quite overlooked as he did with the Redskins, where Norman’s personality and play made every corner feel like they were second-fiddle.

Nickel back: Captain Munnerlyn was signed a year ago to handle this role. He also can fill in as an every-down end. Munnerlyn should have help at nickel this year from Corn Elder, sidelined all of his rookie year with injuries.

Strong safety: Mike Adams is 36 and the Panthers can only hope he has one good season left. Look for a player that possibly can play strong and free to be drafted, maybe even in the first round.

Free safety: TBD or Colin Jones. Carolina released Kurt Coleman to clear cap space and to get more speed in the secondary. They could do this through the draft or with a second-tier free agent. Tyrann Mathieu, released by Arizona, would be a great fit but the price tag may be too high for a team that doesn’t invest a lot at safety.

Special teams

Placekicker: Graham Gano was rewarded for his best season with a four-year, $17 million deal before free agency began. He just needs somebody to compete with in camp.

Punter: Michael Palardy has been steady and proved worthy of the Panthers keeping him over Andy Lee last year.

Deep snapper: J.J. Jansen has been a mainstay here even though he counts just over $1 million against the cap.