Panthers OT situation: Who will be backup tackles in 2023

Carolina Panthers offensive tackle Brady Christensen (70) and Carolina Panthers offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu (79) come off the line against Pittsburgh Steelers defense during a game at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022.

Carolina Panthers offensive tackle Brady Christensen (70) and Carolina Panthers offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu (79) come off the line against Pittsburgh Steelers defense during a game at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022.

For the first time in more than a decade, the Carolina Panthers do not have to worry about their future at either left or right tackle.

Thanks in part to tackles Taylor Moton and rookie Ikem Ekwonu, the Panthers have one of the most capable and stable offensive lines in the NFL. Moton, Ekwonu, and guards Brady Christensen and Austin Corbett started all 17 games this season. Carolina used just two different offensive line combinations after needing 17 different combinations in 2021.

Depth helped the Panthers’ offensive line become the team’s identity. Carolina’s “Arby’s” package featured eight offensive linemen on the field at the same time, a rarity in football only made possible with a surplus of talented big men.

By drafting Ekwonu and signing Corbett in free agency, starters from 2021 became important backups. No reserve was more important up front than swing tackle Cam Erving. He’s the Panthers’ lone tackle who will become a free agent. Here are options Carolina can explore at tackle in free agency and the draft:

Pending free agents

OT Cam Erving

Erving started in fewer games this season than he ever has in his eight-year career. Yet, he proved invaluable to Carolina this season as the elder statesmen of the Panthers’ offensive line. Nearly everything Erving did for Carolina couldn’t be tracked in the box scores. He was a mentor to the team’s rookie offensive linemen Cade Mays and Ekwonu. On game days he was an extension of offensive line coach James Campen, constantly reminding teammates of assignments and defensive adjustments.

It’s unclear whether Carolina will re-sign Erving this off-season. Though swing tackles are valuable, the team has other pending free agents general manager Scott Fitterer will likely prioritize over a backup.

Erving, 30, has played on four teams in eight years. He has never played more than three consecutive seasons for the same franchise.

Under contract

Taylor Moton

Moton remains the lone steady presence on the Panthers’ offensive line since the team drafted him in 2017. The 28-year-old has been starting at right tackle since he won the job in 2018. This season, Moton did not miss a start en route to another solid year where the Panthers’ offensive line became the team’s identity. His 82.4 Pro Football Focus grade ranked 12th among qualified tackles this season according to Pro Football Focus. He allowed just three sacks and one quarterback hit.

Moton is set to make more than $17 million next season, the second-most on the team. His high salary makes him a candidate for a contract restructuring, which would help Carolina create salary cap space. Restructuring Moton’s deal would save the Panthers around $11.14 million according to Over the Cap. Moton is under contract through the 2025 season.

Ikem Ekwonu

Ekwonu could not have started his rookie season with a more challenging matchup. In Week 1, Browns All-Pro defensive end Myles Garrett notched two sacks and recorded four pressures against Ekwonu. But over the next 16 games, Ekwonu allowed only four sacks. From Week 3 to Week 8, Ekwonu did not allow a sack or quarterback hit.

Before Carolina drafted Ekwonu No. 6 in the 2022 NFL Draft, he was already considered a blue-chip run blocker. He pushed opposing defensive ends and edge rushers backward this year and helped Carolina finish 10th in rushing yards per game.

The Panthers knew Ekwonu would instantly improve their running game. But the strides he took as a pass blocker happened sooner than evaluators anticipated.

Larnel Coleman

Carolina signed Coleman from the Dolphins practice squad in Week 8. The second-year pro spent nine weeks on the Panthers’ practice squad.

Draft outlook

Blake Freeland, BYU

The Panthers have allocated both draft capital and cap space on its offensive line over the past two years. Those decisions have worked out, which is why it is unlikely Carolina will target an offensive lineman early in the 2023 draft or free agency this off-season. But a team can never have too many quality tackles.

Tackle is not a position of need but if a Day 3 prospect like Blake Freeland impresses Panthers’ scouts, then Carolina should not hesitate. As a senior this season, Freeland played in 12 games and logged 805 snaps. He allowed five quarterback hurries, three hits, and no sacks while playing left tackle.

Dawand Jones, Ohio State

Ohio State tackle Dawand Jones has rare size for a tackle. Jones stands 6-8 and weighs 360 pounds, a mountain at right tackle who allowed only four sacks in his four-year career. He’s capable of erasing edge rushers and moving inside defenders back into the running game.

But his lack of lateral quickness, hand speed, and concerns that he’s too large make him a Day 3 prospect.

Potential free agent options

Kelvin Beachum, Arizona Cardinals

If Carolina does not re-sign Erving then Fitterer will likely look for another veteran swing tackle with an affordable price tag. Cardinals tackle Kelvin Beachum fits that mold. The 33-year-old tackle is coming off a two-year, $4 million deal signed in 2021.

Hailing from Minnesota, Ellis L. Williams joined the Observer in October 2021 to cover the Carolina Panthers. Prior, he spent two years reporting on the Browns for Plain Dealer. Having escaped cold winters, he’s thrilled to consume football, hoops, music and movies within the Queen City.

Source link

Leave a Comment