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Panthers sign free agent Paul Soliai, but re-signing Charles Johnson was top move

The re-signing of defensive end Charles Johnson was a move that added depth and created cap room for the Panthers this offseason. Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports

A breakdown of the first week of free agency for the Carolina Panthers:

Most significant signing: One could argue the signing of Paul Soliai, because he filled a need for depth at defensive tackle. But I’m going with the most significant re-signing. Less than a week after cutting defensive end Charles Johnson to clear $11 million in cap space, the Panthers re-signed him to a one-year deal worth $3 million. Johnson’s cap figure is only $2,562,500, a huge drop from the $15 million he was scheduled to count. Johnson, 29, showed in the playoffs that he still has something left after registering three sacks. Re-signing him took away the pressure to sign a veteran end in free agency and cleared space to sign Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kawann Short to a long-term deal.

Most significant loss: Carolina wasn’t willing to match the four-year, $8.8 million deal punter Brad Nortman received from the Jaguars. Nortman had been the punter since the Panthers drafted him in the sixth round in 2012. But they were prepared for the loss, signing Canadian Football League standout Swazye Waters in early February. They will add another punter for competition going into training camp, but for the moment, the job is in the hands of an unproven NFL player.

Player they should have signed or still could sign: Safety Eric Weddle was the name most mentioned for Carolina heading into free agency because of a need in the defensive backfield and the connection to coach Ron Rivera in San Diego. That never was realistic, because the price tag was too high. (Weddle signed a four-year, $26 million deal with the Ravens.) The Panthers still could be in the market for another safety in free agency or the draft. They also have the option of bringing back Roman Harper, 33, although all has been quiet on that front.

What’s next: Signing 6-foot-4, 344-pound Soliai as a run-stopper to back up starters Star Lotulelei and Short was big. Since the Panthers use a four-man rotation, they could bring in another veteran at a low price or add a player here in the draft. They have gone with two veteran backups over the past two seasons. Carolina also is in the market for more depth on the offensive line, apparently moving on from free-agent guard Amini Silatolu.

Overall grade: B-plus. The Panthers haven’t made a big splash. That’s not general manager Dave Gettleman’s style. But when you consider they franchised Pro Bowl cornerback Josh Norman ($13,952,000), filled a need with Soliai and the savings they got with Johnson, those are wins. Throw in re-signing Pro Bowl fullback Mike Tolbert for a $1.45 million cap hit -- less than half his 2015 cap hit -- and that’s another win. They also added depth with a proven backup center/guard in Gino Gradkowski. Nothing sexy, but solid.