A recent Marty Hurney interview on panthers.com stated that the team's goal was to bring back 21 of 22 starters - noting they felt that Michael Gaines was a starter and hinting that they had no interest in bringing free agent safety Shaun Williams back.
Williams, who has experience both with Fox and new DBs coach Tim Lewis from his time in New York, isn't expected to be back. "Special teams-only" backup Kevin McCadam was released this week, leaving only Mike Minter and second-year S Nate Salley at the position. The conventional wisdom is that Carolina would need to sign a free agent to start opposite Minter, and draft a young player to eventually replace him.
While the draft is topheavy with playmakers LaRon Landry (LSU) and Reggie Nelson (Florida), there's also significant depth to the position that could last through the third round. Therefore, the team might be better off not waiting for a young player they'd have to start right off - and then having another player to cultivate across from him as soon as next year. There's also the basic logistical problem of filling all their other needs in the draft and have to
There are three "names" in free agency as of now - Ken Hamlin, Deon Grant, and Michael Lewis. Lewis, of the three, is the riskiest and least expensive. A true SS, Lewis was benched this year by Philadelphia because of major coverage limitations, but was linked to Carolina by ESPN.
Grant, a free safety, was a Panther from 2000-03, and left for Jacksonville after the Super Bowl. He still has a tie to Mike Minter, and the staff here, but Minter is a free safety at this point in his career as well - the team putting together various projects at SS over the last few years trying to get larger at SS to improve coverage v/s the TE.
Hamlin has played both spots, is a feared hitter, and has good coverage but somewhat limited range. A natural for SS, Hamlin has been a major part of a strong secondary in the Seahawks' playoff runs.
None of the major safeties have signed to this point in free agency, and the team could go with a less heralded but more rangy player like the Steelers' Tyrone Carter.
Nate Salley, to this point, hasn't shown anything to suggest he can be more than a special teamer. It would be a bonus to even show he can be rostered for an entire season.