Panthers GM has decisions to make on Thomas Davis, other UFAs

The Panthers have a decision to make on whether to keep 2005 first-round pick and outside linebacker Thomas Davis for the 2019 season (or beyond). John Byrum/Icon Sportswire

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Marty Hurney said 18 months ago when he began his second go-round as the Carolina Panthers' general manager that he needed to make sure the "analytical part of my brain takes over the emotional" part when making personnel decisions.

This offseason will put that statement to the test.

Among Carolina's 19 unrestricted free agents, there will be a few -- none more than outside linebacker Thomas Davis -- who will tug at Hurney's heartstrings.

Hurney actually put his new philosophy to the test last year when he released running back Jonathan Stewart, the team's leading career rusher, and defensive end Charles Johnson, second on the team's career sack list.

He drafted both, gave them extensions bigger than they probably deserved and felt a sense of loyalty to each of them.

The decision on Davis, 35, is more difficult because of what he has meant to the organization and his presence in the locker room, not just what he has meant to Hurney. One could argue that Davis should become the second player named to Carolina's Hall of Honor. Middle linebacker Sam Mills, one of the original Panthers, was the first.

But Davis isn't the only tough decision ahead before free agency begins March 13. The Panthers are about $25 million under the salary cap, which puts them in the bottom half of the league.

They could clear another $7.2 million by releasing left tackle Matt Kalil, who spent the season on injured reserve, with a post-June 1 designation. Parting with nickelback Captain Munnerlyn would create another $3.5 million in cap space. Otherwise, Hurney doesn't have a lot of wiggle room.

At the top of Hurney's to-do list is devising a plan for rehabbing Cam Newton's sore right shoulder and a backup plan at quarterback in case the situation persists for the 2015 NFL MVP.

Second is deciding what to do with the team's UFAs. Let's break down what's ahead:


FS Eric Reid: He's only 27 and is coming off arguably his best season. Coach Ron Rivera wants him back. Hurney already has initiated preliminary talks with Reid's agent about a new deal. That Reid wants to return to the team that gave him a chance when no others would because of his grievance against the NFL is a plus for Carolina. Not a plus is that Reid wants "market value," which could cost the Panthers anywhere from $6 million to $10 million a year. His decision to continue kneeling during the national anthem didn't become a distraction, and neither did the seven times he was drug tested. With changes coming to the front end of this defense that struggled in 2018, it makes sense to keep the back end strong.

DT Kyle Love: At 32 and wanting to extend his career, he shouldn't draw a huge price tag.

OT Daryl Williams: A big question in training camp before the right tackle suffered a knee injury that ultimately would end his season was whether the Panthers could afford the big salary the 2015 fourth-round pick might demand this offseason. The price should be lower because of the injury. I see a scenario where Williams plays right tackle and Taylor Moton, who did a solid job taking over for Williams, goes to the left side. That increases the likelihood Carolina will move on from Kalil's five-year, $55.5 million deal.

LB David Mayo: The depth at linebacker was hurt when the Panthers lost A.J. Klein in free agency two years ago. Mayo plays the same role as Klein and should come at a much lower cost.

If the price is right

Davis: He has made it clear he wants to play one more season, and he wants to finish his career where it began in 2005 as a first-round pick out of Georgia. If the Panthers don't want him, Davis says he will consider another organization. Rivera believes the player who has been the heart and soul of this defense for most of the past decade has something left. While his role could and should be reduced to give Shaq Thompson more opportunities, a return for a bargain price would be a bargain for the franchise and allow Davis to walk away from the game on his own terms.

S Colin Jones: At 31, he's still valuable enough on special teams and as a backup safety to keep him around.

OT Marshall Newhouse: The 2010 fifth-round draft pick by Green Bay showed enough glimpses of potential to bring him back for depth.

LB Ben Jacobs: Like Mayo, he's a solid special-teams player who can fill in at linebacker.

DE Wes Horton: His ability to play end and tackle and be effective at stopping the run should earn another deal for a player who has played well since getting a second chance in 2016.

RB Fozzy Whittaker: A solid role player who missed this past season with a torn ACL, he should come cheap and would fit right into what offensive coordinator Norv Turner does with starting back Christian McCaffrey.

Tough call

DE Julius Peppers: Rivera said the season-ending victory at New Orleans was a nice way to send off center Ryan Kalil and Peppers. The issue was that Kalil already had announced his retirement. Peppers, who turns 39 on Jan. 18, had not. Some of Peppers' teammates get the feeling the surefire Hall of Famer wants to come back to pass Kevin Greene for third place on the NFL's career sack list. Peppers (159.5) is half a sack shy. Hurney's hope here should be that Peppers decides in the next week or two to retire, because bringing him back even at a bargain price would deny opportunities for a younger edge rusher the team needs to develop. This is where the analytical part of Hurney's brain needs to take over.

Move on

WR Devin Funchess: Two days to remember here. A mid-November game at Detroit when the 2015 second-round pick unofficially had five drops in a 20-19 loss. After that there was a sudden drop-off in snaps for Funchess. Then there was the finale at New Orleans, when Funchess was a healthy scratch. DJ Moore officially has taken over the No. 1 receiver spot at Carolina. With the emergence of Curtis Samuel and other options at receiver, there really isn't a reason to keep Funchess for what it would cost.

S Mike Adams: He'll be 38 in March, and it's time for the Panthers to develop young players such as Rashaan Gaulden to play opposite Reid. Da'Norris Searcy, who spent most of last season on IR, also is back.

RB Cameron Artis-Payne: He might be a good change-of-pace back for McCaffrey, but, with McCaffrey seldom coming off the field, there's no reason to invest here.

RB Kenjon Barner: There's a reason he's been with five teams since 2013 and has three stints with the Panthers.

RB Travaris Cadet: Not much of a role on this squad for this role player.

K Chandler Catanzaro: One could argue that the Panthers should sign him to the league minimum to provide competition for Graham Gano, who missed the final four games with a knee injury. Gano is confident his injury won't be an issue in 2019. He also has a $3,687,500 cap hit in 2019 that has to be a consideration.

OT Chris Clark: He was a decent fill-in at left tackle for Kalil, but 33-year-old Clark isn't the long-term solution.

OG Amini Silatolu: He is 30 and has a growing history of injuries, and the Panthers need to get younger and stronger up front.


Restricted free agents: Keeping wide receiver Damiere Byrd, quarterback Taylor Heinicke, tight end Chris Manhertz and linebacker Jared Norris should fall into the no-brainer category.

Side note: Those who were excited about the play of quarterback Kyle Allen in the season-ending win at New Orleans should know he's signed through 2019 with a cap hit of $495,000.