The timing of bringing back various linemen around the same time as
possibly letting Steve Smith go is still unfortunate. Potentially
necessary, potentially heartbreaking.
Here's what we know: Byron Bell, at the 2nd round tender, is a player
the Panthers believe in. There are rumors they'd push him to play left
tackle. We'll get back to that later.
Working from inside out, they have Ryan Kalil at C. You can write that
one in pen. Outside of that, it starts to get tricky. Projecting a
starting lineup right now would be questionable - they're obviously not
done - but the resources remain somewhat small to improve, too.
At RG, you could have Garry Williams. The team has brought back
Williams, backup Chris Scott (who started 8 games last year), and they
return second year project Ed Kugbila. There's Nate Chandler, who
finished the season there, but I'm going to move him around.
At LG, Amini Silatolu is the assumed starter. Silatolu can be good or
bad, and for both of the last two years he's started badly, finished
strong, and got hurt near his zenith (the duration on 2012 was simply
longer than 2013). You might have some worries about his durability,
but otherwise he's a guy you have to count on.
Tackle gets more complicated. I'm happy to have Byron Bell back, less
happy about the $2.1 million, one year deal that his RFA tender has
become. The upside, fiscally, is that if they want, they can still sign
him to a longer deal, that might lessen that number (it might not, you
never know - the team might value him more than we do).
The Bell rumors at LT might have validity, but I'd rather that not be
the case. I have more confidence in him than most, where the two things
most people focus on include his undrafted status and his bad game
against Mario Williams. But his feet aren't great for LT, and I'd be
more comfortable if that included a draft pick backing him (and taking
over down the road).
To go with that, there are various other names that could play RT.
Williams has a season at OT, and played there in college. Chandler was
expected to be an OT and looked OK there in preseason last year; now he
has more experience as a lineman. You could, if you really needed,
throw both players out there if the right OT wasn't there in the draft.
You'd be lighter at guard, but you can get those somewhat easier.
The interesting rumor comes from the Panthers' potential interest in
Seahawks OT Breno Giacomini. Exclusively a RT, Giacomini would come in
a world where Bell is the LT. Having a vet RT would make life maybe a
little easier for Bell at LT, and the Panthers' cap situation makes them
more beggars than choosers. I don't like Giacomini, however.
Physically limited, he's fairly dirty; I remember him having a run in
with Charles Johnson long ago and Frank Alexander threw a punch at him
last year in week 1.
The truth is, the team is making moves on the OL right now to lock down
inexpensive options that can compete (and therefore are inexpensive
enough to be backups), with the exception of Bell - who has successfully
gone three years without being replaced, and remains in the team's
plans. It appears, on first look, that linemen are less expensive
overall and easier to get in the free agent market, whereas both OL and
WR are very deep in the draft.
I'm not saying that the team will definitely work on the line harder
before the draft and go to extremes like double dipping for a WR. With
two months to the draft, and free agency not yet underway fully, you
know as much as I do about how it'll go down from here. They could sign
three vet WR. But at the moment, the tea leaves show a bare cupboard at
WR (featuring Kealoha Pilares and two guys picked up midseason last
year, the trio logging five snaps total on the year) and a line that's
versatile enough to be modular. They have more options on the OL right
now, so it's easier to load up and bank on WR in the draft right now.