Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) is seen on the field against the Washington Redskins in the first quarter at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland on December 19, 2016. File photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo
Quarterback Cam Newton underwent surgery on a partially torn rotator cuff, and recently began a four-month rehab process. If all goes well, Newton will be full-go at the start of training camp, but the 2015 NFL MVP needs to mend more than just his throwing arm.
"(His confidence) was shook," head coach Ron Rivera said at the NFL league meeting. "Let's be honest. I'm not going to lie about that. The young man went through a tough time and we went through a tough time.
"Why? Because of the injuries we incurred on the offensive line. That was probably the biggest thing. It just kind of shows the importance and significance of protecting your quarterback."
Which is why the Panthers opened free agency by signing left tackle Matt Kalil to a five-year contract worth $24 million guaranteed at signing.
"We did a lot of work on him and I feel really good about it," general manager Dave Gettleman said of Kalil, a former No. 4 overall pick who struggled in his final four years with the Vikings. "He's the right guy for us."
After pairing Matt with his older brother Ryan on the offensive line, the Panthers reunited with defensive end Julius Peppers, who is not as dynamic as he was when began his Hall of Fame career in Carolina, but who still has some tread left.
Peppers' final year in Charlotte was Captain Munnerlyn's first. After a three-year stint in Minnesota, he's back as well. The Panthers have had a gaping hole at nickel back since Munnerlyn left, but his new four-year deal plugs that problem.
In what was easily his most active free-agency period, Gettleman also added safety Mike Adams and receivers Charles Johnson and Russell Shepard. So with their most obvious needs filled, the Panthers head into the draft unencumbered by a to-do list.
"When you're sitting at eight, you're going to be looking at a variety," Gettleman said. "You're going to be in Ben and Jerry's. Chocolate, pistachio, rocky road. You're going to have a variety of guys to look at; it gets you excited."
Here is a closer look at where the Panthers are, how they got here and a shot at what they should do with their first pick in the draft, at No. 8.
2016 finish: 4th NFC South (6-10)
TOTAL OFFENSE: 343.7 (19th)
RUSHING: 113.4 (10th)
PASSING: 230.3 (T21st)
TOTAL DEFENSE: 359.8 (21st)
RUSHING: 91.6 (6th)
PASSING: 268.2 (29th)
1. Running back: With the Panthers planning to take quarterback Cam Newton out of the run game, they need more than just the 30-year-old Jonathan Stewart in their backfield.
2. Tackle: Even after giving left tackle Matt Kalil big money, the Panthers' tackle situation isn't ideal. Michael Oher will slide to the right side, as long as he's cleared from a concussion that cost him 13 games in 2016.
3. Defensive end: If this were 2012, pairing Julius Peppers with Charles Johnson would be a great start. But it's 2017, and the Panthers need to plan for their future pass rush.
KEY PERSONNEL TRACKER (As of April 5)
DE Mario Addison: Potential UFA; $22.5M/3 yrs, $11.25M guaranteed.
DE Wes Horton: Potential UFA; $2.7M/2 yrs, $425,000 guaranteed.
DE Charles Johnson: Potential UFA; $9.5M/2 yrs.
S Colin Jones: Potential UFA; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
DT Kyle Love: UFA; $2.2M/2 yrs, $200K SB.
G/T Chris Scott: UFA; $980K/1 yr, $80K SB.
RB Fozzy Whittaker: Potential UFA; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
CB Teddy Williams: UFA; $855K/1 yr, $80 SB.
S Mike Adams: UFA Colts; $4.2M/2 yrs, $650K SB/$1.15M guaranteed.
QB Garrett Gilbert: FA; terms unknown.
WR Charles Johnson: Not tendered as RFA by Vikings; terms unknown.
T Matt Kalil: UFA Vikings; $55.5M/5 yrs, $12M/SB$21M guaranteed; $7M injury only at time of signing.
CB Captain Munnerlyn: UFA Vikings; $17M/3 yrs, $6M SB/$8M guaranteed, $1.1M injury only at time of signing.
LB Julius Peppers: UFA Packers; $3.5M/1 yr, $1.65M SB.
WR Russell Shepard: UFA Buccaneers; $10M/3 yrs, $2.1M SB.
G Amini Silatolu: FA; terms unknown.
WR Philly Brown: Not tendered as RFA/Bills; terms unknown.
DE Kony Ealy (traded Patriots).
WR Ted Ginn Jr.: UFA Saints; $11M/3 yrs, $3M guaranteed.
CB Leonard Johnson: UFA Bills; $855K/1 yr, $80 SB.
LB A.J. Klein: UFA Saints; $24M/4 yrs, $4M SB/$9.4M guaranteed.
T Mike Remmers: UFA Vikings; $30M/5 yrs, $3M SB/$10.5M guaranteed.
DL Paul Soliai (released).
FB Mike Tolbert (released).
NFLDraftScout.com analysts suggest (No. 8 overall)
Jonathan Allen, DL, Alabama. Defensive line is not necessarily the biggest concern in Carolina, but general manager Dave Gettleman may have a hard time letting a talent like Allen slip any further. Questions about the health of his shoulders and schematic fit could hound the 6-foot-3, 286-pound Allen, but the tape does not lie; he is agile, powerful and technically refined, possessing the ability to play virtually anywhere along the defensive line.
Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU. Veteran Jonathan Stewart averaged only 3.8 yards per rush and reached the 100-yard mark in only one game last season, his ninth in the NFL. Fournette is a freak talent who would instantly add juice to the Panthers' offense.
Agree? Disagree? Still shopping?
Based on the team's current status, there are our suggestions for that first pick. To double check or find another candidate check out NFLDraftScout.com's full mocks and ratings here.
--Frank Cooney, founder and publisher of The Sports Xchange and NFLDraftScout.com, is in his sixth decade covering football and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. TSX team insiders contributed to this article.