Up until recently the Carolina Panthers have been rather quiet during the off-season. Besides franchising punter Todd Sauerbrun, there has been little activity from the front office. In recent weeks however, all that has changed. While there has been no blockbuster signings yet, there have been several interesting developments so far.
TE Wesley Walls – Released
Although Walls has been a great competitor and productive member of the team since his arrival, it was simply time for both sides to move on. Walls had seen his involvement in the offense decline and his age (37) indicates his best days are behind him. Walls would have cost nearly $4 million against the cap next year if he had been retained. Most assumptions point to Walls retiring, but he will ponder all of his options.
RB Lamar Smith – Released
A career journeyman, Smith had done a reasonable job for the Panthers last season, running for over 700 yards and leading the team in rushing. However, he is not a very explosive player and he posted a fairly pedestrian 3.5 yards per carry. Smith turned off the coaching staff with his arrest late in the season and did not play in the team's final five games. Apparently the team is not sold on DeShaun Foster's health and will probably try to upgrade the position by signing free agent Stephen Davis.
QB Jake Delhomme – Signed
By signing Delhomme, the Panthers have taken a step in rectifying their quarterback troubles. Delhomme has been a backup in New Orleans for most of his career, but in limited playing time has shown flashes of starting ability. The team is interested in his abilities and upside as a starter. Although very unproven, Delhomme is only 28 and will get his chance to compete for the starting spot.
QB Rodney Peete – Resigned
Peete, an unrestricted free agent, indicated he wanted to return to Carolina earlier in the off-season and it seems the front office agreed. Peete is a veteran who had some success in his first year as a starter for the Panthers. He will have to be especially sharp during mini-camp and preseason due to the increased amount of competition. If the Panthers decide to take a young quarterback in the draft, Peete could use his experience and become a valuable tutor. At the very least, Peete is a quality safety option who has proven he can manage the team.
DT Sean Gilbert – Released
Arguably the franchise's most crippling acquisition, as the team gave up two first round picks for the rights to sign the disappointing Gilbert. Now a shadow of his former self, Gilbert seems content to possibly retire and the organization is happy to oblige. Cutting Gilbert, despite a pro-rated salary cap hit, will ultimately free up a lot of future cap room. Releasing the troubled lineman will hopefully let the team move on from such a disastrous trade.
Future off-season issues:
Muhsin Muhammad and Todd Steussie are scheduled to make more than $5 million each next season. Due to their somewhat declining play, look for the Panthers to try and renegotiate their contracts in the near future. Depending on who the team drafts, either player may become expendable due to their high cap numbers.
The wide receiving corps needs an overhaul, whether through free agency or most likely the draft. With the marquee receivers already signed, expect the team to possibly sign a second-tier player who can push for a starting job. Qadry Ismail, Oronde Gadsden, Germane Crowell, Kevin Dyson and Tai Streets are potential candidates.
Running back is a need that has been discussed before, and all signs point to the Panthers making a big push for Stephen Davis. If Davis cannot be signed, Emmitt Smith may also get a look by the team. Another running back will probably be added via the draft as well.