A breakdown of the Carolina Panthers' 2019 free-agent signings.
Matt Paradis, C
The Panthers agreed Tuesday to terms with Matt Paradis on a three-year deal worth $27 million. Here’s a closer look at the center, who spent the previous five seasons with the Denver Broncos:
What it means: Finding a replacement for retired five-time Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil, not only a leader on the field in protecting quarterback Cam Newton but also a key leader in the locker room, was a goal for coach Ron Rivera. He got both in Paradis, a 29-year-old veteran who is considered an above-average pass protector, according to grades by Pro Football Focus. There really wasn’t another player on the line who fit the leadership qualities Kalil brought. So with Paradis at center over Tyler Larsen, the Panthers appear set to keep left tackle Matt Kalil, who didn’t play last season because of a knee injury. That doesn’t mean the Panthers definitely won’t re-sign free agent tackle Daryl Williams, but cap space is tight. To do so likely would mean releasing Matt Kalil, which would clear $7.25 million under the cap but create $14 million in dead money. Rivera said at the combine that he was planning to have Kalil under contract.
What’s the risk: Paradis suffered a fractured fibula in the ninth game last season and spent the rest of the year on injured reserve, so he’ll have to pass a physical before the deal becomes official. But Paradis said on NFL Network at the combine in Indianapolis that he was ahead of schedule, so it appears he would be ready for the season. Barring a setback there, the risk is minimal. The Panthers always have Larsen as insurance if Paradis’ recovery is delayed.
Taylor Heinicke, QB
The Panthers are signing Heinicke to a one-year deal. Details were not immediately available. Here’s a closer look at the quarterback who backed up Cam Newton last season:
What it means: No surprise here, as Rivera said at the NFL combine the team was happy enough with Heinicke and Kyle Allen last season that they wouldn’t go after a veteran quarterback in free agency. They said this even though Newton is recovering from his second shoulder surgery in three offseasons, so there is confidence the 2015 NFL MVP will be ready for the season. However, Rivera didn’t rule out drafting a quarterback to compete for the backup job. They talked to several at the combine, so don’t be surprised to see them pull the trigger on one on the second or third day of the draft.
What’s the risk: You’re still counting on two very inexperienced quarterbacks behind Newton. There will be some uncertainty surrounding Newton, despite positive post-surgery reports, until he actually throws for a period of time with no pain. Also, Heinicke suffered a partially torn triceps in his only start after Newton was shut down for the final two games of 2018. The injury required surgery and is healing fine. The concern should be how Heinicke performed in his start. He had three interceptions to only one touchdown in the 24-10 loss to Atlanta. That’s one reason the Panthers re-signed Heinicke instead of tendering him an offer as a restricted free agent. It saves them money.
Daryl Williams, OT
The Panthers agreed to terms to re-sign Williams to a one-year deal worth $6 million, a league source told ESPN.com. Here’s a closer look at the offensive tackle who spent the previous four seasons with the Panthers:
What it means: The 2015 fourth-round pick got a one-year deal, which means his market probably wasn’t as big as he expected coming off a season-ending knee injury, so he’ll return to the Panthers to prove he’s back to the form that made him a top right tackle in 2017. What it means beyond that remains to be seen. It could mean the Panthers plan to release left tackle Matt Kalil and clear just over $7.2 million from the salary cap. If that happens, Williams would return to right tackle, where he started all 17 games in 2017 and Taylor Moton would move from the right to left side, where he started opening week a year ago before Williams was injured. If Kalil remains on the roster, then the Panthers have solid depth at tackle and can put the focus in the draft on other positions. And remember, Williams started some at guard in 2016, so position flexibility is important. Providing Newton with maximum protection is taking shape with the addition of Williams and Paradis.
What’s the risk: The risk, if you plan on having Williams long term, is in not signing him to a long-term deal. Cap space is tight, so that probably wasn’t feasible. But if Williams plays as well as he did in 2017, his price tag goes way up in the 2020 free-agent market and you might lose him. The other risk is that Williams, who injured his knee in camp and again in the opener last year, becomes injury prone.
Bruce Irvin, DE
The Panthers signed Irvin to a one-year deal to an undisclosed amount. Here’s a closer look at the defensive end/linebacker who spent the previous two-and-a-half seasons with the Oakland Raiders before being released halfway through last season and picked up by the Atlanta Falcons:
What it means: Irvin gives the Panthers a veteran player opposite defensive end Mario Addison, Carolina’s sack leader the past three seasons. He also can play linebacker, which is important as Carolina is blending the 3-4 scheme into Ron Rivera’s traditional 4-3. Irvin (6-3, 250) has 43.5 career sacks since Seattle made him a first-round pick in 2012 and had 6.5 sacks last season between Oakland and Atlanta. With the retirement of future Hall of Famer Julius Peppers, the Panthers needed a player with experience at a key position as Rivera hopes to ramp up pressure on quarterbacks. However, it doesn’t mean the Panthers won’t take an edge rusher with the 16th pick of the draft. They still need a long-term solution here, and Irvin at 31 with a one-year deal simply is a stopgap.
What’s the risk: Simply, that Irvin doesn’t have much left. Carolina is looking to get younger and faster on defense with the retirement of Peppers, 39, and the decision not to re-sign 35-year-old outside linebacker Thomas Davis. Irvin obviously is on the back end of his career. But with Carolina looking for position flexibility, if he’s part of a four-man rotation that Rivera likes to implement, then Irvin won’t have to be an every down player. That should be a plus for him.