3 Free Agency, Draft Targets Carolina Panthers Must Chase for 2013

Stephen Fenech@Fenech2491Correspondent IDecember 11, 2012

PASADENA, CA - OCTOBER 13:  Defensive tackle Star Lotulelei #92 of the Utah Utes battles offensive lineman Torian White #77 of the UCLA Bruins as he rushes quarterback Brett Hundley #17 at the Rose Bowl on October 13, 2012 in Pasadena, California. UCLA won 21-14.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

The Carolina Panthers are in the midst of a disappointing season, one in which they will finish below .500 for the third straight year. 

Injuries have played a part in the lack of success, as Pro Bowlers Jon Beason, Chris Gamble and Ryan Kalil are all on IR. That being said, the Panthers would have a better record if they managed to win close games.

Carolina is 0-6 in games decided by less than seven points, which is a clear-cut sign of a mentally-weak team. The Panthers have the talent to beat any team in the league, but they have been too inconsistent and unstable.

The lack of a killer instinct could be attributed to Ron Rivera and his coaching staff, but their tenure with the team will likely come to an end after the season. 

Looking forward, the Panthers have areas that need to be addressed regardless of who is coaching the team. 


Draft Utah Defensive Tackle Star Lotulelei

The Carolina Panthers are currently 4-9, which means they are a near lock to earn a Top 10 pick in April's draft. 

The Panthers must address their run defense, as the unit has been one of the league's worst for the past two seasons. Through 13 games this season, the Panthers have surrendered an average of 121.6 yards per game, which is ranked 21st in the NFL

Luckily for Carolina, Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei will be in the 2013 class. Lotulelei has the size and athletic ability to be a menace inside. 

Lotulelei would improve any defense and the league, and will probably be one of the first players off the board. For the Panthers to acquire him, they would likely need a top-three pick because Lotulelei is a potential franchise changing player. 

With Lotulelei in the middle and Luke Kuechly behind him at middle linebacker, the Panthers would employ one of the league's premier defensive tackle/linebacker tandems.

If the Panthers are serious about making the playoffs, then their first order of business should be to improve the run defense. And although they may need to trade up a few picks to select Lotulelei, it is something that the Panthers' new general manager should strongly consider.  

Lotulelei is the type of player that will make everyone around him appear better, as opposing offenses would have to devise game plans around blocking him. 


Try to Sign Dwayne Bowe in Free Agency 

While the Panthers' need at wide receiver isn't glaring, adding a player like Dwayne Bowe would drastically improve their passing attack. 

Despite only finding the end zone two times this season, Steve Smith has held up his bargain as the team's No.1 option in the passing game. 

With that being said, Smith is in the midst of his 12th season and will start to slow down eventually. Once that happens, Cam Newton will be without a reliable star target. 

Brandon LaFell has made some impressive plays this season, but he has struggled at times as the team's No. 2 receiver. Louis Murphy is a safe option on third down, but the majority of his success is predicated on Smith and LaFell drawing the defense's attention their way.  

Bowe is set to be a free agent after the season, and it seems unlikely that he will opt to re-sign with the Kansas City Chiefs. In fact, Bowe might have played his final game as a member of the Chiefs because he is out for the remainder of the season due to broken ribs. 

In his six seasons with the Chiefs, Bowe caught 415 yards, 5,728 yards and 39 touchdowns despite never being paired with an elite quarterback. 

Bowe is a good route runner and has the size to be a dominant target. He would be a fantastic receiver for Newton, as Cam can be inaccurate at times. 

No matter where Bowe ends up, he will come out motivated and rejuvenated to prove how dangerous he can be when blessed with adequate quarterback play. 

The hype from the Panthers fanbase may have been a year premature, a notion that would be further reinforced if the Panthers front office can convince Bowe that Newton is the quarterback for him.


Try to Sign Brent Grimes in Free Agency 

The NFC South champion Atlanta Falcons were dealt a blow when they lost stud cornerback Brent Grimes in their season opener against the Chiefs.
While the Falcons have amassed an 11-2 record without Grimes, they clearly miss him by their middle-of-the-road pass defense. 
The Achilles injury that Grimes suffered could potentially threaten his career. Since Grimes depends on his speed and jumping ability to shut down opposing wideouts, he cannot afford to lose any explosiveness. 
If he is able to return to the field, NFL teams will send him through an array of tests and drills before they will be willing to seriously consider extending a lucrative contract.
The Panthers have defended the pass relatively well this season, but their poor run defense has motivated opponents to run the ball first and pass second. 
Since Grimes' future is somewhat clouded due to his injury, the Panthers may be able to get a discount for his services if other teams are hesitant to sign him. 
With Gamble set to return next season, adding Grimes would give the Panthers one of the NFC's best cornerback duos. It would also allow Captain Munnerlyn to slide to nickelback, which is a position that he is most fit to play. 


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