Carolina Panthers 2024 NFL offseason primer: League's biggest rebuild faces obstacles

Carolina Panthers' 2023 season: 2-15, missed playoffs

Overview: This is the NFL's biggest rebuild. Even more daunting is the task doesn't look promising under team owner David Tepper, whose patience and temperament have drawn criticism. Tossing a drink into the stands in a fit of frustration is never a good look for anyone over the age of 5.

Contributing to the Carolina blues was a poor rookie season for No. 1 overall draft pick Bryce Young. His NFL start looked even rougher when comparing it to the Houston Texans' C.J. Stroud, who was drafted after Young and went on to have the greatest QB rookie season.

This is the task for rookie head coach Dave Canales and general manager Dan Morgan, who replaced Scott Fitterer. It's tough one for the Panthers, who currently don't have a first-round draft pick.

(Taylor Wilhelm/Yahoo Sports)
(Taylor Wilhelm/Yahoo Sports)

Key free agents

CB Shaquill Griffin
WR DJ Chark
CB CJ Henderson
S Sam Franklin Jr.

Who's in/out: Star pass rusher Brian Burns is gone after the Panthers traded him to the Giants following a franchise tag. Carolina netted a second and fifth-round pick in the deal. Safety Jeremy Chinn, linebacker Frankie Luvu and edge rusher Yetur Gross-Matos were also lost to free agency.

Will Brian Burns be back in Carolina next season? (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
The Panthers traded Brian Burns to the Giants, meaning one of their best players is gone. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Key free agent needs

Wide receiver
Offensive line

Why the holes? The Panthers have been aggressive in addressing their biggest needs. They traded for Steelers WR Diontae Johnson while sending away CB Donte Jackson and swapping late-round picks. He's a dynamic weapon in a passing game that lacked options last year with Adam Thielen (1,014 receiving yards) and DJ Chark (525) leading the wide receivers room. The team also added guards Robert Hunt and Damien Lewis in sizable deals to beef up an offensive line that badly needed it. Young took 62 sacks in 16 games. The team will need a replacement for Burns on defense though.

Do they have the money?

The Panthers are $26.7 million under the cap, according to Spotrac.

Potential notable cuts

WR Terrace Marshall Jr.
TE Ian Thomas

Why they might be gone: Marshall, who is scheduled to be a $1.8 million hit on the salary cap, brought little to the offense with 139 receiving yards and 19 catches in nine games. According to an ESPN report, Marshall sought a trade in October. There were no takers. Meanwhile, Thomas is scheduled to be a $6 million cap hit. He was placed on injured reserve in mid October.

2023 NFLPA report card

(Yahoo Sports)
(Yahoo Sports)

Draft picks

2nd round: No. 33
2nd round: No. 39 (from Giants)
3rd round: No. 65
4th round: No. 100
5th round: No. 141 (from Giants)
5th round: No. 142 (from Titans)
7th round: No. 240 (from Steelers)

Good draft fit

Ja’Lynn Polk, WR, Washington

Why him? Even after trading for Johnson, the Panthers need any kind of an upgrade at wideout and Polk projects high value. Polk ranked No. 34 on Nate Tice's Top 40 big board for Yahoo Sports. "Polk has above-average-to-good size, speed, foot quickness, contact balance," Tice wrote in his evaluation. "He might not have true No. 1 option upside, but he can carve out a role in a lot of different types of offenses at the NFL level and become a reliable target-eater no matter what’s asked of him."

What can move the fantasy football needle this offseason?

How many miracles does Canales have in his bag of tricks? His fingerprints were all over Geno Smith's breakout in 2022, and Canales coached up Baker Mayfield to a snappy comeback 2023 season. Can Canales rebuild Young's fledgling career? That's the first priority here, though a big assist would come from help in the receivers room, where things are rather grim. Carolina doesn't have a lot of draft capital, but the gaps on the outside can't be ignored. — Scott Pianowski