CHARLOTTE, NC (Joseph Person/The Charlotte Observer) - Carolina Panthers general manager Marty Hurney signs a 27-year-old running back coming off a 1,000-yard season on a team-friendly deal … and fans want to know what his next move will be.
In his first full offseason during his second stint as GM, Hurney took care of a bunch of items on his to-do list, particularly to surround quarterback Cam Newton with more playmakers.
Are there still potential holes on the depth chart?
Sure, but nothing that looks as glaring as it did two months ago.
In talking with people in the organization, I get the sense the Panthers are done adding major roster pieces before training camp. Even if Hurney were so inclined, he might not have the money to do so.
The Panthers were about $7 million below the salary cap before signing C.J. Anderson to a 1-year deal Monday (worth approximately $1.7 million with about $800,000 in incentives, according to a league source).
That's enough to take care of the draft picks and undrafted free agents while staying under the cap (only the top 51 contracts count against it). But it doesn't leave room for much else, unless Hurney wanted to free up space by converting the big salaries of Newton and middle linebacker Luke Kuechly to signing bonuses, for instance.
With that said, a look at three areas where the Panthers could look to improve:
This has been a hot topic in Charlotte since the Panthers cut Kurt Coleman, leaving 37-year-old Mike Adams as the only returning starter. It's also a position with several proven starters still looking for work, including Eric Reid (who may be looking for a while), Kenny Vaccaro and former Panther Tre Boston.
After Hurney used a third-round pick on Rashaan Gaulden, the Panthers will use OTAs and minicamps to get a look at the former Tennessee safety, newcomer Da'Norris Searcy, and Demetrius Cox, who played in four games as a rookie before going down with a season-ending ankle injury.
The Panthers are expected to start OTAs in two weeks with a different No. 2 QB for the first time since Newton entered the league in 2011. Derek Anderson, who has been a fixture in Carolina's QB room, talked with the Panthers in free agency but remains unsigned.
Meanwhile, Hurney brought in two young quarterbacks to compete with Garrett Gilbert — Taylor Heinicke, who was with offensive coordinator Norv Turner in Minnesota, and Kyle Allen, the Texas A&M transfer who started three games at Houston last season before losing the starting job.
If the Panthers don't like what they're getting from the young guys during OTAs or even training camp, they could always turn to Anderson or another veteran free agent. Ex-Panther Matt Moore is among those available.
No. 2 tight end
There's been some concern outside the organization about the left guard position in wake of Andrew Norwell's exit for Jacksonville. But given the way Tyler Larsen filled in for center Ryan Kalil the past two seasons, he looks capable of sliding to guard and playing well.
Replacing No. 2 tight end Ed Dickson — an adept blocker and pass-catcher — could be trickier.
Antonio Gates has strong ties to Turner and Ron Rivera from their time in San Diego. But Gates will turn 38 in June and is coming off a 30-catch season that was the worst of his career. Plus, Dallas might go after Gates to plug the gap left by Jason Witten's retirement.
Much like the positions mentioned above, the Panthers want to give their young players a chance during the spring and early portion of training camp to see where they stand.
They have high hopes for fourth-round pick Ian Thomas, while acknowledging the former Indiana tight end is a bit of a project.