Panthers cut roster to 53

Carolina opted to keep three running backs as it got down to the league limit

Carolina Panthers quarterback Will Grier walks off the field after a preseason NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Friday, Aug. 27, 2021, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman)

The Carolina Panthers cut their roster down to 53 players on Tuesday, settling several position battles that have highlighted training camp and the preseason.

In an upset, 35-year-old J.J. Jansen, one of the oldest Panthers on the roster and one of the few links to the 2015 Super Bowl team, held onto his job as the team’s long snapper. The team selected Alabama’s Thomas Fletcher in the sixth round, and the two alternated halves throughout the preseason.

Fletcher was placed on season-ending injured reserve, however, allowing the team to retain his rights and presumably rejoin the position battle next preseason. Fletcher was the only one of Carolina’s 2021 draft picks not to make the 53-man roster.

The team also settled on a backup quarterback, behind starter Sam Darnold. Like the long snappers, the Panthers alternated quarterbacks by half in the preseason. In the end, PJ Walker, who played for coach Matt Rhule at Temple, was given the job over 2019 third-round draft pick Will Grier.

Grier appeared to outplay Walker, who struggled with accuracy in the preseason. Grier completed 71 percent of his passes to Walker’s 41 percent. Grier also had a passer rating almost 20 points higher, 91.1 to 71.7, but he was released while the team retained Walker.

Three players who impressed during the preseason were released on cutdown day. Undrafted wide receiver Chris Saunders made an early splash in camp but got very few snaps once the preseason games started.  Undrafted running back Spencer Brown impressed during games. Both players were released but are good bets to be added to the practice squad if they aren’t picked up by another team.

The Panthers made some interesting choices at running back, keeping three full-time backs in Christian McCaffrey, draft pick Chuba Hubbard and veteran Trenton Cannon. The Panthers waived veteran Reggie Bonnafon with an injury settlement and also cut Rodney Smith, like Brown an undrafted free agent. The Panthers also kept tight end Giovanni Ricci, who is listed as a fullback.

The team also continued to cut ties to players drafted by the old regime. In addition to Grier, 2019 fourth-round pick Christian Miller was released. He opted out of last season but performed well as a pass rushing linebacker in the preseason. The team acquired end Darryl Johnson, formerly of NC A&T, in a trade with Buffalo on Monday, which may have cost Miller a spot.

Kenny Robinson, a 2020 fifth-round pick, was cut at safety, and veteran corner Rashaan Melvin also got released.

Rounding out the team’s cutdown day moves were the releases of linebacker Josh Bynes, acquired by the team midway through camp, receivers Omar Bayless and Keith Kirkwood, tight end Stephen Sullivan, defensive lineman Frank Herron, offensive linemen Sam Tecklenburg, Mike Horton and Aaron Monteiro and cornerback Jalen Julius.

Kicker Joey Slye was also released over the weekend, in advance of cutdown day.