CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - A lot of Carolina Panthers fans are still wondering if this team is rebuilding or retooling. On the defensive side of the ball, there is no questioning the fact that this unit is rebuilding.
Of the 11 starters for the Panthers defense at the end of last season, 8 are gone. Add in some key reserves as well and the rebuild is on.
Among the starters and key reserves with new teams include defensive end Gerald McCoy (Dallas), defensive end Mario Addison (Buffalo), outside linebacker Bruce Irvin (Seattle), cornerback James Bradberry (New York Giants), and defensive tackle Vernon Butler (Buffalo).
Former Panthers still out on the market as free agents include defensive tackle Dontari Poe, defensive tackle Kyle Love, safety Eric Reid, and cornerback Ross Cockrell.
Of course the biggest loss is linebacker Luke Kuechly who surprisingly retired back in January.
That is a lot of veteran talent out the door at Bank of America Stadium.
To begin the rebuild, the Panthers have agreed to terms with safety Tre Boston to return to Carolina.
After the Panthers drafted Boston in 2014, he spent 3 years in Carolina. He would spend the next 2 years with San Diego and Arizona before coming back to Carolina right before the start of the 2019 season.
Last year, he started all 16 games and was 4th on the team in tackles with 76 and had 3 interceptions.
It’s a 3 year deal for the Boston and he instantly becomes the veteran leader for this new look unit.
Elsewhere in free agency, the team signed defensive ends Stephen Weatherly and Chris Smith.
Weatherly comes to Carolina after spending his first 4 years in the league with Minnesota. Last season, he had 24 tackles and 3 sacks.
Smith is a Rowan County native and went to high school at West Rowan. In 6 years in the NFL (3 in Jacksonville, 1 in Cincinnati, and 2 in Cleveland), Smith has 68 tackles and 8.5 sacks.
The team also signed another North Carolina native in safety Juston Burris. Burris is from Raleigh and was drafted by the New York Jets in 2014. He spent the last 2 years with the Cleveland Browns. In his time in the league, he has 71 tackles and 4 interceptions.
These free agent signings aren’t going to knock your socks off, but they are young players who have contributed in the league and now will be asked to finally take a bigger role here in Carolina. Expect more of these types of signings as the Panthers work on their salary cap situation as well as find guys who will fit into the Panthers new culture under new head coach Matt Rhule.
Normally under a new coach, teams get an extra week of mini camps to work out the kinks, but thanks to COVID 19, all off season workouts have been cancelled by the NFL.
With new guys coming in via the NFL Draft, new players in free agency, and a new coaching staff led by new defensive coordinator Phil Snow, it may take a while for this new defense to find its identity when they all finally get back on the field.
But the rebuild is just beginning.