This could be the year the Panthers use an early pick on a safety

Stanford safety Justin Reid could be an option for the Panthers in the first round. Tommy LaPorte/Icon Sportswire

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The release of free safety Kurt Coleman may have been the biggest surprise of free agency for the Carolina Panthers.

Coleman was a team captain, a leader on and off the field.

Da'Norris Searcy, 29, who lost his starting job with the Tennessee Titans last season, will get the first shot at filling the void after being signed in free agency to a two-year, $5 million deal.

That brings us to the next segment in a position-by-position look at the Carolina roster.

Next up: Safety

2017 grade: C-plus

Coleman and strong safety Mike Adams made a lot of tackles, but they had only two interceptions between them, both by Adams. They didn’t make the game-changing plays needed from this position.

Under contract (2018 salary cap number): Adams, $2,450,000; Searcy, $2,250,000; Colin Jones, $1,500,000; Dezmen Southward, $630,000; Demetrious Cox, $555,000; Damian Parms, $480,000. Total: $7,865,000.

Key free agents: None.

The good: Coleman was scheduled to count $5,150,000 against cap this season. Releasing him saved $2.65 million in cap room. Searcy will count $2,150,000 against the cap. The Panthers have proven they can survive at safety without investing a lot of capital because they are so strong up front. They also have Jones, who has proven to be an adequate fill-in.

The bad: Adams is 37, an age where things could fall apart fast. There are some young prospects in Southward and Cox, but neither is a proven starter. Carolina is one injury away from being in a potentially bad situation.

The draft: It’s a good year for safeties, with Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick and Florida State’s Derwin James expected to go early in the first round. They likely won't be around when the Panthers pick at No. 24, but Alabama’s Ronnie Harrison and Stanford’s Justin Reid also could be first- or second-round picks. Jessie Bates III out of Wake Forest could be a solid pickup in the third or fourth round. So the Panthers have options to improve depth and maybe even get a starter.

Final thought: The Panthers haven’t invested a draft pick in a safety since selecting Tre Boston in the fourth round in 2014. Since 2008, the earliest they've used a pick on a safety was in the third round (No. 67 overall), where they drafted Charles Godfrey that season. This could be the year they address the position early, with Adams potentially playing his last season. It wouldn’t surprise if they used the No. 24 overall pick here. If not, don’t be surprised if they use one of their two third-round picks on a safety.