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2024 offseason primer: Is HC Dave Canales game for a Panthers rebuild?



There may be no bigger mess in the NFL than the Carolina Panthers.


The team needed a young quarterback to build around, so then-general manager Scott Fitterer mortgaged the farm to trade up for Bryce Young.


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Had Fitterer kept his picks, he would be picking No. 1 overall this year and choosing between USC’s Caleb Williams or North Carolina’s Drake Maye — both of whom are more highly regarded prospects than Young was at this point a year ago.


Head coach Frank Reich didn’t even make it to Week 12 before he was shown the door, and now former Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Dave Canales is expected to come in and clean up Reich’s mess as the next HC.


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The roster has plenty of holes to plug, and without a first-round pick, new GM Dan Morgan must get creative to address roster needs and surround Young with as much help as possible.


Here’s what you need to know about Carolina’s offseason


PROJECTED 2024 CAP SPACE: $31.05 million (13th-most in NFL)


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FREE AGENTS: RB Raheem Blackshear, FB Giovanni Ricci, WRs DJ Chark, Laviska Shenault Jr., Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Stephen Sullivan, OL Ilm Manning, Gabe Jackson, Justin McCray, long snapper J.J. Jansen, defensive ends Marquis Haynes Sr., Yetur Gross-Matos, DeShawn Williams, Henry Anderson, Nick Thurman, Jalen Dalton, defensive tackles Chris Wormley, LaBryan Ray, outside linebackers Brian Burns, Kamu Grugier-Hill, linebacker Frankie Luvu, cornerbacks C.J. Henderson, Shaquill Griffin, Troy Hill, Mac McCain III, safety Sam Franklin, Jeremy Chinn


The Panthers don’t have many in-house free agents worthy of bringing back next season, but there are a few who should take priority — especially Burns, who logged 7.5 sacks or more and 16 or more QB hits in each of his five seasons.


Without him, there’s little threat of a pass rush. Luvu led the Panthers with 125 tackles in 2023, and he’s totaled 12.5 sacks over the last two years.


He’s only 27 and the leader of the team’s linebacker unit, and he should be retained as well.


The same can be said for Chinn, who’s a key member of the NFL’s No. 3-ranked pass defense.


Offensively, there’s not much to get excited about, but perhaps Shenault — who’s only 25 and put up back-to-back seasons with


50 or more receptions and 600 or more yards in his first two years — could be a nice depth WR behind Adam Thielen and whichever WR the team drafts in April.


2024 DRAFT PICKS: Round 2 (No. 33 overall) | Round 3 | Round 4 | Round 5 | Round 6 | Round 7


TOP DRAFT NEEDS (in order): Wide receiver, pass-rusher, offensive line, defensive line, tight end — The reality is Carolina has more roster needs than


draft picks available, so the front office must make what it does have count.


Since the Panthers don’t pick until Round 2, it would behoove them to grab the best receiver available and give Young a legitimate No. 1 target to throw to.


If Burns leaves via free agency, the team’s pass rush will take a huge hit, so grabbing an edge-rusher or outside linebacker in the second or third round is also very much in play as well.


DRAFT PROSPECTS TO WATCH: Texas WR Adonai Mitchell, Texas WR Xavier Worthy, LSU WR Brian Thomas Jr., Oregon WR Troy Franklin, Arizona OT Jordan Morgan, Duke OL Graham Barton, Texas DT Byron Murphy II, Miami DL Leonard Taylor


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