The Carolina Panthers defensive line has two blue-chip talents worth building around.
Defensive tackle Derrick Brown and defensive end Brian Burns are two of the best front-four defenders in football. Brown had a career season. He has blossomed into one of the league’s best defensive tackles. This year, the third-year defender set career highs in quarterback hits, pressures, hurries, tackles and even interceptions. His 67 tackles tied Mike Rucker (2002) for the most by a Panthers defensive lineman in a single season.
Burns continued on his superstar trajectory this season. He made his second Pro Bowl and set a career-high sack total with 12.5. Burns is eligible for a contract extension this offseason and is expected to sign a lucrative deal.
Carolina must find young and affordable talent to complement Brown and Burns either in the draft or in free agency.
Pending free agents
DT Matthew Ioannidis
Ioannidis was brought in to partner with Brown after he was released by the Washington Commanders last offseason. The defensive tackle had a background with former coach Matt Rhule from their days at Temple, and he fit the three-technique role opposite Brown.
Ioannidis had a solid season in Carolina, even as a calf and back injuries slowed his momentum. He was a sturdy veteran presence in the middle of the line. Ioannidis could return if the new regime can get him at a solid price.
DE Henry Anderson
Anderson was brought in to be a run-stopping complement to Burns at defensive end. He was put on the non-football illness list in Week 7 after sustaining what he called a “minor stroke.” Anderson eventually returned to the lineup and played in the defensive end rotation.
He fits a specific role many teams desire. His return will depend on which team is willing to pay the most.
DE Brian Burns
Burns is one of the best pass rushers in football and will likely only continue to improve. He’s been durable over his four-year career, only missing two games due to injury.
DT Derrick Brown
Brown is also in line for a market-setting deal following his breakout in Year 3. Waiting to extend him until the next offseason makes sense but either way Brown will command top-market money after his rookie deal expires.
DE Marquis Haynes
Haynes thrived as a rotational pass rusher playing next to Burns. According to Pro Football Focus, he played 40% of the team’s defensive snaps but still finished third in sacks with five. The fifth-year defensive end has one year remaining on his contract.
DE Yetur Gross-Matos
There is still more to be desired for Gross-Matos, who was drafted in the second round out of Penn State in 2020. He’s inconsistent against the run and only had 2.5 sacks this season. Gross-Matos improving upon his high points and playing with more consistency next season would help Carolina shore up its defensive line without having to make major investments.
DE Amaré Barno
The Panthers are hopeful Barno can develop into a rotational pass rusher. He appeared in nine games but contributed mostly on special teams. He ran a 4.36 at the NFL combine in the 40-yard dash, which was the fastest of all defensive linemen in the draft.
DT Bravvion Roy
Roy is a two-down defensive tackle who earned additional playing time since Ioannidis missed multiple games with a calf injury. His Week 11 interception of Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson was a season highlight.
DT Marquan McCall
McCall appeared in only 13% of the Panthers’ defensive snaps this season. The rookie defensive tackle signed with Carolina as an undrafted free agent in April.
DT Siaki Ika, Baylor
Besides Brown, Carolina has not invested a top-60 pick at defensive tackle in several years. Analytics suggest defensive tackle is where teams can be cheap but too often this season the Panthers could not pressure the quarterback rushing just four defenders.
The Panthers can change that by drafting a three-technique tackle on Day 2. Ika is long and athletic enough to play nose tackle or defensive tackle. Evaluators rave about Ika’s lateral quickness. He’s able to fill multiple gaps by anticipating incoming blockers and beating them to a spot.
Ika will be able to take on double teams at the next level and eat up space. He’s an interior disruptor who could take attention off Brown or win his one-on-one matchups.
DE Andre Carter II, Army
Carolina is still searching for a viable pass rusher opposite Burns. If the team does not select a first-round quarterback then adding an edge rusher would make sense. The Panthers also have multiple Day 2 picks they could use to target a defensive end.
Carter projects as a Day 2 prospect with explosive traits. At Army, he recorded 14.5 sacks in 2021 and established himself as a passionate leader. He’s a bit undersized but he made up for that with quick hands and fast feet. He’s swift around the edge and has a combination of pass-rush moves that are pro-ready.
Potential free agent options
Dalvin Tomlinson, Vikings
The Minnesota Vikings moved Dalvin Tomlinson from nose tackle to defensive tackle after signing him from the New York Giants. He missed several games this season due to injury but was the Vikings’ best defensive player when available. His versatility would help Carolina keep its options open upfront without compromising Tomlinson’s potential output.
He is expected to land a three-year, $37.5 million deal according to Spotrac.
Jadeveon Clowney, Browns
It may finally be time for Clowney to return to the Carolinas. After multiple seasons with the Cleveland Browns, the former Gamecock sounds ready for a new environment. The Panthers should not rush to sign Clowney. He’s been playing on one-year deals since 2020 and would again require a similar low-expectation commitment.