The Carolina Panthers were one of the hottest teams in the league over the first half of the season and were sitting pretty at 6-2 before a brutal 52-21 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in week 10 in a Thursday night game sent their season in a downward spiral.
They would go on to lose six of their last seven games that, with the Steelers’ game included, saw them drop seven straight contests until the final week of the season when they beat the Saints handily 33-14 but New Orleans had already locked up their playoff spot and rested nearly all of their starters.
Since the 2018 season ended the team has begun to take the first steps toward fielding a much younger team for this upcoming season and beyond as the franchise’s all-time sack leader in defensive end Julius Peppers (age 39) will hang up his cleats and they informed the franchise’s all-time leading tackler, linebacker Thomas Davis (age 35) that they would not retain him for the 2019 season.
They officially announced on Feb. 25 that they were releasing veteran slot corner Captain Munnerlyn (age 30) after just two years into a contract that he signed in March of 2017 and that they would not attempt to resign veteran safety Mike Adams (age 37) after he played out his contract this past year.
Munnerlyn was the youngest of the bunch, but he turns 31 in April and the Panthers have been investing in younger pieces to their defense over the last few seasons. Their second-round pick from the 2016 draft, corner James Bradberry has performed well over the past two seasons and the team’s second-round pick from last season, corner Donte Jackson got off to a hot start in his rookie year before cooling off, like much of the team did down the stretch.
The team is expecting linebacker Shaq Thompson, their first-round pick from 2015, to step in Davis’ role in tandem with defensive stalwart and six-time Pro Bowl linebacker Luke Kuechly. He doesn’t possess the same natural instincts and rapport with Kuechly as Davis, he has the athleticism to stay with running backs and tight ends in coverage as well as fly from sideline to sideline.
Thompson’s production has risen with each year he’s been in the league and had his best year last season to date in 2018 when he finished with a career-high in both total tackles with 79 and in sacks with 3.5.
Carolina was near the bottom of the league in sacks as their 35 sacks ranked 27th in the league last season and with Peppers calling it a career, the team will look to free agency and the upcoming draft to improve their pass rush.
Luckily for them, there is a fine crop of sack artists that are going to hit the open market this offseason when the new league year officially begins on March 13. The strength of this year’s draft class is on the defensive side of the ball, especially along the front seven, and is viewed as one of the deepest pass rush classes in years.