Panthers add weapons for Cam Newton, but protection remains question

Running back Christian McCaffrey gives the Panthers another dynamic option on offense. Photo by Jim Dedmon/Icon Sportswire

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers ended their offseason program on Thursday. Here’s a look at how they fared:

Offseason goals/grade: The Panthers wanted to shore up an offensive line that was depleted by injuries last season and add more explosive weapons to take pressure off quarterback Cam Newton. It remains to be seen whether signing free-agent left tackle Matt Kalil to a five-year, $55.5 million deal -- one that seems a bit high to me -- will shore up the line. The uncertainty of tackle Michael Oher (concussion protocol) also throws a wrench in things. At this point it looks doubtful Oher will be on the roster. So the line remains young and inexperienced at tackle, outside of Kalil, who is coming off hip surgery. That’s not good news for Newton. In terms of adding more weapons around the quarterback, the Panthers were successful in adding first-round pick Christian McCaffrey and second-round pick Curtis Samuel. Both are dynamic and fast and should give the 2015 NFL MVP more options than he had during a dreadful 2016 season. Grade: C-plus

Move I liked: Two moves to the secondary, actually. Signing cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and strong safety Mike Adams will give a young secondary much-needed experience and make this unit a strength instead of a weakness it was this time a year ago. Munnerlyn will be the nickel back the Panthers haven’t been able to replace since he left for Minnesota in free agency following the 2013 season. He also can play outside should second-year corners James Bradberry and Daryl Williams struggle or get injured. Adams allows Kurt Coleman to return to the free-safety spot at which he excelled in 2015 with a team-leading seven interceptions. He’ll provide a presence against the run, an area in which Tre Boston struggled. Behind one of the league’s top front sevens, which became stronger with the addition of Julius Peppers, this group should return the defense to top-10 form.

Move I didn’t like: Not addressing the tight end position in the draft. There aren’t many, if any, better tight ends in the league than Greg Olsen. He is the first tight end in NFL history to have three straight seasons of 1,000 yards receiving. He’s key to this offense. But if he goes down, the Panthers are left with Ed Dickson and a lot of projects. I would have liked to have seen Carolina trade back into the first round to draft Alabama’s O.J. Howard, who has been compared to Olsen. He fell all the way to Tampa Bay at No. 19 after being pegged as a top-10 pick. The Panthers had the draft picks to make the move up and get him.

Biggest question still to be answered in training camp: Newton, who is coming off surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff, wasn’t able to throw on the side during last week’s minicamp, so all eyes will be on him to how ready he is to throw once training camp begins. And eyes will remain on Newton to see how he adjusts to his new weapons and being less a part of the running game out of the read option. How Newton has performed, particularly in the passing game, in large part has determined how successful the Panthers have been the past four years. They went to the Super Bowl when he was on top of his game in 2015. They struggled during a 2016 season in which he had career lows in most major categories and struggled with his confidence after taking a rash of big hits. This will be a pivotal season for Newton to see if he can evolve into a more traditional quarterback that depends less on his legs.

Salary-cap space: $15,709,963

2017 draft picks: 1. RB Christian McCaffrey, 2. WR Curtis Samuel, 2. OT Taylor Moton, 3. DE Daeshon Hall, 5. CB Corn Elder, 6. FB Alex Armah, 7. PK Harrison Butker.

Undrafted rookie free agents signed: LB Ben Boulware, DE Bryan Cox, WR Austin Duke, CB Cole Luke, WR Fred Ross.

Unrestricted free agents signed: S Mike Adams, OT Matt Kalil, CB Captain Munnerlyn, DE Julius Peppers, WR Russell Shepard.

Restricted free agents signed: G Andrew Norwell.

Players acquired via trade: None, but Carolina picked up an additional second-round pick from New England by trading to the Patriots defensive end Kony Ealy and a third-round pick.