CHARLOTTE, NC — NFL free agency is off and running, and we’re keeping track of every major signing, trade and release of the 2022 offseason, with analysis from our NFL Nation reporters and grades from our experts. The new league year begins March 16 at 4 pm ET, which means free-agent signings can be made official after that. The first round of the 2022 NFL draft begins April 28 on ESPN.
The Carolina Panthers continue to search for a franchise quarterback, but the primary focus in free agency is on the offensive line, starting at left tackle.
General manager Scott Fitterer believes stability up front is the best way to evaluate the quarterback, whether it’s Sam Darnold, a draft pick, or somebody acquired via trade or free agency.
So the O-line should look vastly different than the one that allowed 52 sacks (fifth most in the NFL) a year ago during a 5-12 season.
Here’s a breakdown of every 2022 NFL free-agent signing by the Panthers, and how each will impact the upcoming season:
The three-year deal is worth $15.75 million.
what it means: The Panthers were looking for somebody to play beside third-year player Jeremy Chinn, and in Woods, they got a solid playmaker with slot cover skills. He had three interceptions and 108 tackles last season for the Minnesota Vikings. He spent the previous four seasons at Dallas after being selected in the sixth round of the 2017 draft. Many thought he was a steal there. He’s young and should fit right in as the free safety. Plus he didn’t come at a big cost.
What’s the risk: Not much considering the cost isn’t high. He’s a solid tackler with little downsize.
Corbett also got a three-year deal that is worth $29.25 million
what it means: This is the first piece in rebuilding the offensive line. Because the salary demand of the top left tackles was so high, the team wanted to come out of free agency with a solid guard upgrade. Corbett is that. His strength is run blocking, so he’ll fit what new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo wants to be in terms of developing a power run game. Corbett’s not huge (6-foot-4, 306 pounds) for a guard, but makes up for that with athleticism. Should be a nice fit on the right side, but can play the left.
What’s the risk: A big reason the Panthers are looking to upgrade the line is pass protection. They allowed 52 sacks, fifth most in the NFL, last season. Pass protection is Corbett’s weakness. He allowed 34 pressures on 674 pass-blocking snaps this past season. That’s a pressure rate of 5.04% that ranks 38th out of 68 qualified guards, according to Pro Football Focus.
Chandler agreed to re-sign with the Panthers on a one-year deal.
what it means: The team brings back a player who started seven games last season and is a solid special teams player. He also played for coach Matt Rhule in college, so he is all-in on the process the coach is trying to establish.
What’s the risk: Little risk. Depth and special teams are important, and Chandler is low cost.
Haynes agreed to stay with the Panthers on a two-year deal.
what it means: The Panthers need edge rushers after losing sack leader Haason Reddick in free agency. Haynes is that. His seven sacks the past two seasons are the second most by an NFL player with fewer than 600 snaps. He offers depth to the line as a rotational player, and perhaps with more playing time that he didn’t get behind Reddick and Brian Burns, he could become more impactful.
What’s the risk: He’s still undersized to be a true defensive end in a 4-3 scheme, so he can’t be depended on consistently as a run stopper. Stopping the run was a problem for Carolina last season. Despite ranking second in total defense last season, the Panthers ranked 18th against the run, giving up 113.8 yards a game.
Foreman and the Panthers agreed to a one-year contract.
what it means: Foreman (6-foot-1, 236 pounds) brings a more physical running style to the Panthers than they have with either Christian McCaffrey or Chuba Hubbard. This seems to fit into what new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo, known for having a power running game, wants. It also could open the door for McCaffrey to play more in the slot this season, which coach Matt Rhule hasn’t ruled out. Carolina really didn’t have a productive player in the slot last season, and few, if any, run a rout tree like McCaffrey.
Foreman came into his own last season with Derrick Henry out. He rushed for 566 yards and had another 123 yards in receptions. He is solid insurance for McCaffrey, who has played in only 10 games combined the past two seasons.
What’s the risk: Doesn’t feel like any risk at all. In fact, Foreman not only gives the Panthers insurance if McCaffrey gets hurt for a third straight season, he also gives the team a potential starter, along with Hubbard, should Carolina opt to trade McCaffrey. That’s not the plan, but other teams have been required.
Higgins agreed to a one-year deal with the Panthers.
what it means: Depth with a veteran at wide receiver. Higgins has 137 career catches, with only 24 coming last season. The 27-year-old, nicknamed “Hollywood,” is a speedster who could be a deep threat, but it looks unlikely he will crack even the top three receivers for the Panthers, behind DJ Moore, Robby Anderson and Terrace Marshall Jr.
What’s the risk: none. This is simply a depth signing and somebody who could help on special teams. Not an impact player.
The Panthers and Zylstra agreed to terms on a one-year deal.
what it means: Bringing Zylstra back helps shore up special teams, provide depth at wide receiver and gives the Panthers an emergency kicker, as he had to improvise at Buffalo this past season. Just don’t rely on him for field goals or extra points. He returned only three kickoffs last season but averaged 48.7 yards per return.
What’s the risk: no risk. He’s still in a prove-it mode as a wide receiver but already has proved to be valuable on special teams.
Wilson agreed to a two-year contract with the Panthers
what it means: In their continued quest to replace Luke Kuechly, the Panthers signed Wilson to likely replace free agent Jermaine Carter Jr. at inside linebacker. Wilson had a career-best 106 tackles and three sacks last season for the Jacksonville Jaguars. He originally was a fourth-round pick by the Dallas Cowboys, then moved on to the Kansas City Chiefs, where he helped them win Super Bowl LIV.
What’s the risk: One of Kuechly’s strengths was coverability. That’s one of Wilson’s weaknesses, a big reason for his overall low grade of 44.0 by Pro Football Focus.