Panthers 2024 free agency tracker: Offseason moves, signings

Orlovsky: Robert Hunt signing great for Bryce Young (0:42)

Dan Orlovsky says the Panthers signing guard Robert Hunt will be important for the development of Bryce Young. (0:42)

NFL free agency is off and running, and we're keeping track of every major signing, trade and release of the 2024 offseason, with analysis from our NFL Nation reporters and grades from our experts. The new league year began Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET, which means free agent signings can be made official after that. The first round of the 2024 NFL draft begins April 25 on ESPN.

Here's a breakdown of every 2024 NFL free agent signing by the Carolina Panthers and how each will impact the upcoming season:

Jadeveon Clowney, LB

Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, Clowney agreed to a two-year, $20 million contract that can be worth up to $24 million.

What it means: The Panthers have their edge rusher to replace Brian Burns, who was traded to the Giants. At 31, Clowney isn't an every-down player like Burns was, but he'll be a nice complement for D.J. Wonnum and a solid teacher to groom K'Lavon Chaisson and DJ Johnson. Clowney is an ideal piece for defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero's 3-4 scheme, and he should be highly motivated playing within 25 minutes from his hometown (Rock Hill, South Carolina) and college (South Carolina).

What's the risk: Age is the only real drawback, so his snap count likely will be limited. But he has played at least 14 games in two of the past three seasons and had nine-plus sacks in both of those campaigns (2021, 2023). Injuries, most notably his right knee, have limited him to one season in which he started every game since he entered the league in 2014. But he did start 15 games last season and played in all 17 for the Ravens last year.

Diontae Johnson, WR

The Panthers are acquiring Johnson from the Steelers in a trade.

What it means: Bryce Young has a new weapon who appears to be an upgrade from last year's receiving corps. That the Panthers got Johnson in a trade that basically cost them a player (CB Donte Jackson) they planned to release, seems like a steal. Johnson isn't a big target (5-foot-10, 183 pounds), but he plays big and has enough speed to give Young a legitimate deep target he didn't have last season. Johnson had five touchdown catches and 717 yards receiving last season for a Steelers team that totaled 13 passing TDs and had quarterback issues, which speaks volumes for his potential with an accurate passer like Young.

What's the risk: Johnson is in the last year of his contract and carries a $15.8 million cap hit (basically a wash for Jackson's hit), so if the Panthers can't renegotiate this into a long-term deal, then this would be a one-year lease. Carolina is looking for more long-term solutions for Young, whose only consistent target last season was Adam Thielen, who is 33. The risk is that Johnson plays one season at Carolina and moves on.

Robert Hunt, G

Hunt and the Panthers agreed to a five-year, $100 million contract with $63 million guaranteed.

What it means: Young, whose 62 sacks were the second most in the NFL last season behind Washington's Sam Howell (65), will have better interior protection for the foreseeable future. Hunt is a massive 6-foot-6 and 330 pounds. He has won 90.9% of his pass blocks during his career and has allowed 12 sacks in 3,316 career snaps. It seems new coach Dave Canales' commitment to the run game and protecting Young is real.

What's the risk: Only that Carolina might have overpaid at guard with so many other needs, beginning with wide receiver, center and tight end to name a few. But because the Panthers will have so much money under the cap in 2025 and 2026, is it really too much to invest in protecting their franchise quarterback? That was a priority, and they have followed through in a literally big way.

Damien Lewis, G

Lewis and the Panthers agreed to terms on a four-year, $53 million contract with $26.2 million guaranteed.

What it means: The merry-go-round of guards protecting Young is over. Lewis joins Hunt to form an interior wall that should allow Young, the top pick of the 2023 draft, to perform in ways he never could this past season while under constant duress. Lewis, a third-round pick in 2020, allowed three sacks on 931 snaps this past season. He had a 97.2% pass block efficiency rating.

What's the risk: None. Lewis was a part of the interior protection in Seattle when Canales helped quarterback Geno Smith to career-best numbers in 2022 and Russell Wilson to career-best numbers in 2020. Perhaps putting $153 million in Hunt and Lewis combined seems excessive, but allowing Young to develop was a top offseason priority, so it's hard to argue against it.

Yosh Nijman, OT

Nijman is joining the Panthers on a two-year contract.

What it means: Carolina gets depth at both tackle spots with a player who has 22 starts in 67 games in four seasons at right and left tackle. For a team that went through all the injuries Carolina did last season along the line, having a dependable backup behind LT Ikem Ekwonu and RT Taylor Moton is good insurance for a staff looking to give Young maximum protection in 2024.

What's the risk: Low risk, although Nijman's overall grades weren't much above average. Still, having an experienced swing tackle does allow Carolina to spend its draft picks on other needs. Having competition also can only help, particularly at left tackle.

A'Shawn Robinson, DT

Robinson reached agreement on a three-year, $22.5 million deal with Carolina.

What it means: Just like on the offensive side, the Panthers are building from the inside out on defense. Robinson is a perfect fit as an end opposite Derrick Brown in Evero's 3-4 scheme. He and Evero have a relationship from their time together with the Rams (2020-21), so Robinson knows the system. At 6-foot-4, 330 pounds, he'll create that inside push that the 3-4 demands to free up the outside linebackers. A solid signing here.

What's the risk: He's only 28 and a good fit for the scheme, so not much at all. Injuries would be the biggest concern. He missed seven games in 2022 and eight in 2020.

Josey Jewell, LB

The former Broncos linebacker is joining Carolina on a three-year, $22.75 million contract.

What it means: Continuity. He played inside linebacker for Evero in Denver in 2022 and had a career-high 128 tackles, seven for loss, so he knows Evero's 3-4 system. He will be a solid and less costly replacement for Frankie Luvu, who signed a three-year, $36 million deal with Washington despite Carolina's attempt to re-sign him.

What's the risk: He's 29, so there's some wear and tear there. But he's had more than 100 tackles in each of the past two seasons and three of the past four. A pectoral injury limited him to two games in 2021, but he has a nose for the ball, like general manager Dan Morgan was known for when he played linebacker for Carolina.

Dane Jackson, CB

Jackson is joining Carolina on a two-year, $14.5 million contract.

What it means: Morgan was a big believer in Jackson when he was director of player personnel with the Bills, who selected Jackson in the seventh round of the 2020 draft, so Morgan must have seen the "dawg'' mentality he wants to bring to Carolina. Now he has Jackson as a likely replacement for Donte Jackson, who was traded to the Steelers on Tuesday. Jackson started only 28 games in Buffalo, but he was productive. He had 152 tackles, 28 pass breakups and three interceptions. He showed his potential as a starter with 58 tackles, two picks and 12 pass breakups in 14 starts in 2022.

What's the risk: He's getting starter money despite only starting 28 of 52 games, so he's still a bit unproven despite his experience. But Morgan knows Jackson well from his time in Buffalo and that lessens the risk -- or at least puts the burden on Morgan if things don't work out.

D.J. Wonnum, LB

The former Viking is joining the Panthers on a two-year, $12.5 million contract.

What it means: Carolina has one of its edge rushers as it attempts to replace two-time Pro Bowler Brian Burns, who signed with the Giants. Wonnum hasn't put up huge numbers, in part because he shared the sack load with elite players such as Danielle Hunter. But he's only 26 and coming off an eight-sack, 38-pressure season before being placed on IR with a torn left quadriceps in Week 16. He also had eight sacks in 2021. The potential is there for him to be a Burns-like player, and he came a lot cheaper than the $24 million that would have been committed to Burns.

What's the risk: Wonnum never lives up to the potential he has shown during his four NFL seasons. He has started only 31 of 62 games, so the Vikings felt there were other players better than him. There would be less risk if the 2020 fourth-round pick out of South Carolina ends up as a complement to another edge rusher.

K'Lavon Chaisson, LB

The former Jaguar is joining the Panthers on a one-year deal worth up to $5 million.

What it means: This is a prove-it contract for the 2020 first-round pick who has only five sacks since 2020 and 11 starts in 57 games. It's more of a depth move. Chaisson also has experience in the 3-4 and played his rookie season under Todd Wash, now Carolina's defensive line coach.

What's the risk: The only risk is if the Panthers don't sign another veteran edge rusher and have to depend on Chaisson to reach the first-round potential he never did with Jacksonville. Chaisson has no starts the past two seasons after the Jags went to a 3-4 scheme, and his production has been minimal.

Troy Hill, CB

The Panthers re-signed Hill for one year.

What it means: The Panthers still need an every-down cornerback to play opposite Jaycee Horn with Donte Jackson being released, but Hill secures the nickelback position and can help out at corner. He played in 16 games for Carolina last season and started in three. He had 48 tackles. He's steady and fits what Evero wants in his 3-4 scheme.

What's the risk: He's a low-cost solution for a position of need, so no risk since he has already been in the system for a season. At worst, he'll provide competition for anybody else Carolina signs or drafts.

Jordan Fuller, S

Fuller is joining Carolina with a one-year contract.

What it means: The safety position that was void after Vonn Bell was released this week has been filled. Fuller may be on a one-year deal, but he's a playmaker. He had three interceptions, eight pass deflections and three forced fumbles in 2023. He has started 46 games since the Rams made him a sixth-round pick in 2020, including two seasons with Evero. He's a two-time captain, so leadership is a plus. At 26, he could be a long-term solution and candidate for an extension in 2025 when Carolina has more cap space.

What's the risk: That he excels and then walks after one season. Otherwise, he seems like a perfect fit rejoining Evero. Even Rams GM Les Snead said it will be hard to replace Fuller's leadership and play.

Nick Scott, S

The former Bengal is signing a one-year contract with the Panthers.

What it means: The Panthers now have two former Rams' safeties who played under Evero in Los Angeles in Fuller and Scott. Having players familiar with the system, particularly the 3-4 that isn't as common as the 4-3, is important -- even if it's a depth move to play behind Fuller. He actually replaced Fuller in the 2001 playoffs after Fuller was injured and had an interception.

What's the risk: Scott lost his job last season early in the Bengals' Week 11 contest against the Baltimore Ravens after missing nine tackles. He had only one start in his first three seasons, so this feels like a prove-it year for him.

Raheem Blackshear, RB

The Panthers are keeping Blackshear on a one-year, exclusive rights deal.

What it means: Versatility. Blackshear can help as a reserve back, receiver and return specialist. He averaged 26.9 yards per kickoff return last season with a long of 52. The past two seasons he has rushed 37 times for 123 yards and three touchdowns and caught 16 passes for 138 yards. He'll offer a change of pace behind running backs Chuba Hubbard and Miles Sanders, plus bring experience as a returner with the league looking to increase kickoff returns in 2024.

What's the risk: Only that the Panthers underuse him. He showed flashes last season but didn't get many opportunities on offense. That could change.

JJ Jansen, LS

The long-snapper re-signed with the Panthers for one year.

What it means: The man who has been nearly flawless long-snapping for the Panthers since 2009 is back for another season. As much change as Carolina is undergoing with another head coach, special teams will remain exactly the same in 2024 with Jansen snapping, Johnny Hekker punting and Eddy Pineiro kicking. Jansen's team's record of 243 career games played will continue to grow.

What's the risk: Absolutely none. Jansen has been the model of consistency since Carolina acquired him a year after he joined the NFL as an undrafted player out of Notre Dame. He should qualify as team historian.

Ihmir Smith-Marsette, WR

The Panthers re-signed the receiver for the 2024 season.

What it means: The Panthers, even though they didn't tender him as a restricted free agent, thought enough of his late-season contributions to bring him back. He was primarily a return specialist for much of the season. His 79-yard punt return for a touchdown in November was the team's first since 2017. He also provided a late-season spark as a gimmick player on reverses and caught eight passes for 51 yards. Speed and shiftiness made him worth another look.

What's the risk: Not a lot. Basically he's been a journeyman in the NFL with four teams since 2021 because of his value on special teams. The risk might have been to have paid him about $3 million by tendering him.

David Moore, WR

The Panthers are adding Moore with a one-year contract.

What it means: He played for Canales in two places and can share what he expects with his new teammates. The two were together in Seattle from 2017 to 2020 and last season in Tampa Bay. Overall, Moore is in Carolina for depth. He caught five passes for 94 yards in seven games last season. His best season came in 2020 when he caught 35 passes for 417 yards and six touchdowns. He was briefly with Carolina when he signed in March of 2021 and was released in final cuts.

What's the risk: Since this was just a depth signing for one year, no risk at all. Familiarity with Canales' system can only be a strength.