Panthers better off, but still not contenders

Posted July 27, 2011 @ 5:13 p.m.
Posted By Dan Parr

After finishing with the league's worst record in 2010, the Panthers, who sat on the sidelines in free agency one year ago, have been the most active team in the early stages of activity.

GM Marty Hurney committed more than $50 million in guaranteed money to keep his top two free agents, agreeing to terms with DE Charles Johnson and RB DeAngelo Williams on new deals. OLBs Thomas Davis and James Anderson reportedly agreed to new five-year contracts.

Carolina has also agreed to terms with DT Ron Edwards, who started 29 games over the past two seasons for the Chiefs, and TE Ben Hartsock, a blocking specialist. Edwards' deal is reportedly worth $8.25 million.

Then there was the most surprising addition for Carolina, which puzzled media and fans.

PK Olindo Mare agreed to a contract worth $12 million over four years with a $4 million signing bonus. It led to speculation that 41-year-old PK John Kasay, who has been with the Panthers since their expansion season of 1995, would be released.

There were no indications that Kasay — who served as the Panthers' representative to the players association — would be on the way out during the four-month lockout. Panthers GM Marty Hurney, in comments to local reporters, described Kasay as a victim of the new kickoff rule that moved the ball up five yards to the 35-yard line.

Kasay was due to make $2 million this season and was signed through 2012.

While it's believed that the Panthers' deals are as good as done, no signings can become official until Friday.

The Panthers are expected to work on new deals for two core players — C Ryan Kalil and MLB Jon Beason — in the coming weeks.

The PFW Spin

The Panthers haven't solved all of their problems with this spending spree, but keeping Johnson was something that needed to be done and the addition of Edwards helps shore up a weak spot. The defensive line is better off because of those moves.

It was no surprise to see Anderson stick around, and he'll likely start on the strong side while Davis, who hasn't played since the 2009 season because of two ACL tears, tries to make his comeback on the weak side.

Hartsock, who leaves the Jets, can help clear lanes in an offense that is going to emphasize the running game. He basically replaces TE Jeff King, who reportedly has agreed to sign with the Cardinals.

Could the Panthers have survived losing Williams in free agency?

I think so.

There's solid depth in the backfield — Jonathan Stewart, Mike Goodson and Tyrell Sutton — without Williams, but the backfield is a stronger one with him. If he continues to struggle to stay healthy or starts to decline, this could be a deal the Panthers end up regretting. Hurney clearly felt that losing Williams before a season in which he could be so reliant on the running game with rookie Cam Newton learning on the fly under center was too big of a risk. The Panthers have kept one of the league's better backfield tandems together, and that takes some pressure off whoever is playing quarterback.

The Mare signing is harder to understand at this point.

The Panthers have given us a lot to digest, and they're not done yet. We could soon learn whether WR Steve Smith will be dealt. We know Smith was very tight with Kasay and would not react favorably to seeing his friend forced out. He already wanted out before this and this won't help the Panthers change his mind if they're interested in doing so.

There's also a hole at cornerback with Richard Marshall on the open market.

Hurney could have another surprise or two up his sleeve, too.

He's going to need a couple. At this point, the Panthers still look like the last-place team in a very competitive division.

Follow Dan Parr on Twitter