Panthers’ overhaul continues in free agency

Carolina has made massive changes on offense and defense

Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater spent the past two seasons as an NFC South foe with the New Orleans Saints, but the former Louisville quarterback will now be under center for the Panthers. (Bill Feig / AP Photo)

Meet the new Carolina Panthers … about as different from the old Panthers as it’s possible to be.

The offseason overhaul of the Panthers roster continued as NFL free agency opened. Here’s a roundup of which longtime Panthers are on the way out, and who will be arriving to replace them:

Quarterback carousel

A week ago, the team told Cam Newton to negotiate a trade, effectively ending his tenure with Carolina. That’s been a tougher task than expected, however, partly because the rest of the NFL knew that the Panthers would have to release him eventually — which happened Tuesday afternoon — so there was no reason to surrender draft picks.

Carolina has signed former Vikings starter and recent Saints backup Teddy Bridgewater to replace Newton. Any question about him getting the job was removed when the Panthers traded last year’s starter, Kyle Allen, to Washington for a fifth-round pick, reuniting Allen with Ron Rivera, who was one of his biggest supporters as Panthers coach last season.

The Panthers also signed XFL star P.J. Walker to serve as Bridgewater’s backup. Walker played for new Panthers coach Matt Rhule at Temple and led the XFL in passing yardage and touchdown passes.

Newton, the 2015 NFL MVP, has seen his landing spot options shrink as Chicago, Indianapolis and Tampa have all signed free agents. Newton’s best option is New England, and Patriots coach Bill Belichick will have his choice of Newton or former Tampa passer Jameis Winston.

Other offensive changes

The Panthers finalized the trade of offensive linemen that was agreed to in February, sending Trai Turner to the Chargers for Russell Okung.

The Panthers have been active signing offensive talent to help support Bridgewater. Carolina signed Bengals guard John Miller, who will replace Turner at guard while Okung mans a tackle spot. Miller blocked for Bridgewater in college and offers the quarterback some security in front of him.

It appears the team will be moving on from Daryl Williams, who played several positions on the line but is currently an unsigned free agent. Greg Van Roten, a guard that the Panthers reportedly wanted to bring back, signed with the Jets.

The Panthers also added a quartet of targets for Bridgewater, including Seth Roberts, who had 21 catches for 271 yards for the Ravens last year but was very productive with the Raiders prior to that.

Keith Kirkwood, another former Temple player, was with Bridgewater on the Saints but missed most of last year with an injury.

Havelock’s Pharoh Cooper returns to his home state after the former All-Pro return man starred for Arizona.

Tight end Seth DeValve also joined the team, filling Greg Olsen’s shoes, after having 12 catches for 140 yards in Jacksonville.

The journeymen arriving at the receiver spots likely mean the team won’t bring back free agents Chris Hogan and Jarius Wright.

Defense decimated

As much as the offense has been in transition, the defensive changes are even more extreme. Except for edge rusher Brian Burns, a first-round draft pick last year, virtually every defensive lineman who contributed last season was allowed to depart.

Mario Addison, who led the team in sacks last year, signed with the Bills and former Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott. The Bills also signed defensive tackle Vernon Butler, who had six sacks last season.

Gerald McCoy, a veteran signed from Tampa Bay last season and made a team captain, left for the Cowboys. Bruce Irvin, another free agent addition last year who had 8.5 sacks for the Panthers, left for the Seahawks.

The Panthers chose not to pick up the option on tackle Dontari Poe, allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent. They also haven’t re-signed free agent tackles Kyle Love and Stacy McGee or end Wes Horton.

The only addition to the defensive line that the Panthers have signed so far is end Stephen Weatherly, formerly of the Vikings. He started one game last season and has six sacks in two years.

The secondary is also going to look very different in 2020. The team re-signed Tre Boston, who led the team in interceptions last year, to a three-year contract.

The Panthers also signed former NC State standout Juston Burris from the Browns.

Carolina released safety and special teams captain Colin Jones and safety Eric Reid. They also let top cornerback James Bradberry, who signed with the Giants, depart as a free agent. Ross Cockrell and Javien Elliott are still unsigned Panthers free agents.

The other new addition on the defense was linebacker Tahir Whitehead, who, like many of the team’s other additions, played for Rhule at Temple.