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Carolina Panthers upcoming free agents - will they be targeted by the Redskins this off-season?

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Carolina Panthers North?

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve seen Ron Rivera reach back to his most recent team, the Carolina Panthers, as a source of position coaches, one coordinator, and the Head Athletic Trainer for the Redskins staff. This has caused consternation among some fans, though there’s nothing particularly unusual in what Rivera is doing. Cronyism is a part of life in the NFL, and is probably more prevalent in American business than most seem willing to acknowledge.

The fact is, when people enter a new organization at a high level, they typically bring in key people with them who understand their philosophies and practices in order to make the cultural transition smoother and more immediate.

For veteran NFL coaches, this often extends beyond the coaching staff, and branches out in, potentially, two directions. One of those directions has to do with the GM and other personnel staff in the front office. We saw a successful marriage created in San Francisco when Kyle Shanahan was hired first, and John Lynch was added as the GM later. We’re reading a lot about how teams like the Browns will make a head coach hiring decision, then look for a front office structure that will work hand-in-glove with that coach.

Here in Redskinsland, Dan Snyder has reportedly handed over the keys to Ron Rivera. We’ve seen an immediate impact among the ‘Skins coaching staff, and we’ve heard that Eric Schaffer will be around through the draft, but departing in May. Other front office personnel decisions and structural reorganization are likely to happen at that time, though anticipating what they will be is difficult, as the information we have, as fans, regarding the goings-on in Asburn is pretty limited.

The second direction that head coaches branch out in when looking for help in changing the culture is the roster. Specifically, veteran coaches often look to bring in veteran players who know the schemes, systems and culture that the coach wants to establish, and they help ‘sell’ that in the locker room.

When Mike Shanahan came to Washington, he brought Rex Grossman along.

When Kyle Shanahan went to Cleveland and Atlanta as OC, and later, San Fran as head coach, he relied on players like Aldrick Robinson, Tom Compton, Pierre Garcon and others to help him.

Free agency is where this happens, and it isn’t far away.

Before the draft and any reorganization of the front office, the NFL free agency period will open up, and most of the action will take place in the first several days of the new league year, which begins at 4:00 p.m., EST on 18 March. By the 25th of March, we should have a good idea where most of the high-profile free agents will be playing in 2020.

With a new regime in place, the Redskins practices of the past 5 or 10 years may not provide a reliable guide to the approach that we can expect the team to take in free agency. Beyond any changes related to scheme fit or player type, there’s a very good chance that Ron Rivera will want to ‘import’ some guys from his previous Carolina roster who can contribute to the Redskins on the field, but equally importantly, help ‘sell’ the Ron Rivera program in the locker room.

Per Over the Cap, the Panthers have 14 pending veteran unrestricted free agents. Obviously, not all of them can be expected to be targeted by Ron Rivera and his crew. In fact, one of them — Stacy McGee — is a former Redskin who likely wouldn’t be welcome back and who probably wouldn’t relish a return. Still, there’s a strong chance that at least a few of these players will be targeted by the Redskins come mid-March, and it’s probably worth considering which players are logical targets.

To do that, I suggest that we first identify who the 14 upcoming UFAs are, then assess their desirability as free agent targets and their projected ‘fit’ with the Redskins expected roster needs and scheme.

The list of Panthers upcoming free agents

Source: Over The Cap

Gerald McCoy, DL
The last thing the Redskins seem to need as far as roster additions is a 32 year old defensive lineman. I don’t see McCoy as a target.

Mario Addison, DE/OLB
Addison was once a street free agent with the Redskins. He bounced around the league for several years, mostly as a minimum salary player before finally establishing himself in Carolina and getting a significant extension in 2017.

In 2019, Addison played in 15 games, getting between 42 and 56 defensive snaps per game, making him a key part of the defensive scheme. He dropped into coverage only 24 times, and had a 60:40 ratio of pass-rush:run defense.

His usage was very similar to Trent Murphy in Buffalo — for comparison’s sake, PFF gave Murphy an overall defensive grade of 75.1 for 2019, with a pass rush grade of 69.3; Addison was graded at 63.1 and 67.3 respectively.

Comparing him to Redskins linebackers, his overall grade was tied with Ryan Kerrigan, and was higher than everyone else except for Shaun Dion-Hamilton and Nate Orchard. His pass-rush grade was higher than all Redskins except Ryan Anderson and Ryan Kerrigan.

Carolina Panthers v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

All in all, Addison appears to be a useful player who compares reasonably well with Trent Murphy for usage, and 2019 Ryan Kerrigan for performance. At 32 years of age, Addison wouldn’t be a long-term roster solution for the Redskins, but as a veteran presence who is familiar with Ron Rivera and his culture, Addison’s 8 years in Carolina could make him an attractive free agent target as someone who could add depth to Jack Del Rio’s group of 4-3 defensive ends.

Daryl Williams, OL
Williams was drafted by the Carolina Panthers in the 4th round of the 2015 draft, and has spent his entire career there. The 6’6”, 330 pound offensive lineman from Oklahoma missed nearly the entire 2018 season with a dislocated kneecap and torn MCL, but was signed to a one-year extension for the ‘19 season. He ended up playing in all 16 games, and showed great positional flexibility in his 12 starts, four at left tackle, three at right guard, and five at left guard.

His pass blocking grade of 64.7 from PFF for the 2019 season ranks him 54th among all guards (Ereck Flowers was ranked 42nd). His run blocking grade of 46.2 ranks at 104 (the lowest PFF run blocking grade for a Redskins guard was 56.8 for Wes Martin).

Williams’ 2019 PFF grades were by far the worst of his career, which could reflect difficulty recovering from injury, the need to constantly switch positions, or a degradation of his skills.

At 27 years of age and two years removed from his knee injury, I could see Ron Rivera and Scott Turner bringing Williams in and betting on his ability to recover his 2017 form, a year in which he started 16 games at right tackle and earned a 77.2 grade from PFF, ranking him above both Andrew Norweplll and Trai Turner, who were his teammates at the time.

Addison is the same size as Morgan Moses, and has a history of playing right tackle at a high level. If he can recover his pre-injury form, he could offer both an upgrade in skills and depth through positional flexibility that would enhance the Redskins offensive line.

Bruce Irvin OLB
Irvin was the starting ROLB for the Panthers this season. He racked up 8 sacks in 13 games.

He came to the Panthers on a one-year, $4m contract, from the Falcons. Irvin was drafted by the Seahawks in the first round (15th overall) in 2012, and then played 2 1/2 seasons with the Raiders following the end of his rookie contract. In 2018 he played 8 games for the Raiders, was released, and then played 8 games for the Falcons. At 33 years old, having never really lived up to his draft pedigree, and with just a single season with the Panthers, I don’t see any appeal for Ron Rivera in bringing Irvin to the Redskins.

Russ Cockrell DB
Cockrell is a backup DB capable of playing both corner and safety. He has played for 4 teams in his 5 year career. While Cockrell is a capable role player who could likely contribute to any NFL roster, there is no special reason for Rivera to try to bring him to the Redskins in 2020.

Tre Boston
There’s something wrong with Tre Boston, but I can’t figure out what it is.

On the field — apart from run support — he seems like one of the more capable free safeties in the NFL, which is valuable in a league that doesn’t seem to have enough players capable of playing free safety.

But, after being drafted by Carolina in the 4th round of the 2014 draft, Boston was cut by Ron Rivera’s Panthers following his third season, not being allowed to finish his rookie contract. In the three seasons since, he has struggled to find much interest in free agency, though this past season, Carolina — the team that drafted him in 2014 and cut him in the ‘17 offseason — brought him back. Apparently, there’s something that Ron Rivera likes about him.

New Orleans Saints v Carolina Panthers Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Tre Boston is an enigma to me. His 76.4 defensive grade from PFF puts him 23rd among safeties in the league in 2019, while his 90.6 coverage grade ranks him 6th overall. Unfortunately, Boston got a miserable 36.8 PFF grade in run defense for the season.

It would seem like a pairing of Landon Collins — a talented box safety with limited coverage skills who excels against the run — and Tre Boston would have the makings of something special. Rivera thought enough of the free safety to bring him back to the Panthers after a two-year absence, but something about Tre Boston’s career doesn’t pass the sniff test. I just can’t figure out what it is.

The result has been that Boston’s contracts have been surprisingly cheap. He played for the Cardinals in 2018 for $1.5m (though they didn’t re-sign him this year), and he played for the Panthers in ‘19 for $2.125m.

I’ve written articles in the past giving the reasons why I think the Redskins should have pursued Tre Boston in free agency. I only hesitate now because of the incredible level of disinterest he seems to have generated among NFL teams over the past three seasons.

With all that said, I think there’s a good argument to be made that Tre Boston, who, in two stints, has spent 4 years with Ron Rivera, could be a good veteran to bring to the Redskins team, as he could make Montae Nicholson, a guy who is inconsistent on the field and seems to be erratic off the field, expendable.

Vernon Butler DL
Butler was drafted by the Panthers in the first round of the 2016 draft, and is reaching the end of his rookie contract. I don’t see the Panthers letting him out of the building, and, if they do, it would be an indication that he’s not likely to be a player that the Redskins need to sign, given the depth and youth Washington has at the position group.

Chris Hogan WR
Hogan is the kind of veteran receiver that the Redskins should probably be looking to add to the roster in 2019. Unfortunately, he was injured most of last season, playing in only 7 games, and he isn’t really a “Panthers culture” guy, since 2019 was his only season in Carolina. I don’t see Rivera trying to bring this 32-year-old receiver to DC.

Kyle Love DL
Love is the Panthers starting NT, and has spent his entire 6-year career in Carolina, so he’s a “Rivera guy”. Love, a former UDFA playing a non-premium position, signed a $1.35m, 1-year contract in 2019. I could see him coming to DC as a rotational interior defensive lineman.

James Bradberry CB
Bradberry, a 2nd round pick in 2016, is one of Carolina’s starting CBs. Although he earned only middling grades from PFF in 2019, it’s hard to imagine the Panthers letting him hit free agency, though he’d likely offer a good complement to the existing Redskins CB group.

Greg van Roten OL
Van Roten was an undrafted free agent who has played 5 years in the league — two with the Packers and three with the Panthers. He started 27 straight games at left guard for the Panthers in ‘18 and ‘19 before going on IR late in the season with a dislocated toe. He was playing in Carolina for $835,000 per season, and could provide an inexpensive veteran option at guard, especially if the Redskins fail to re-sign Flowers, Scherff or both. This guy would be similar to, say, Tom Compton following Kyle Shanahan to Atlanta. I’d say it’s a reasonable possibility.

Atlanta Falcons v Carolina Panthers Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

Stacy McGee DL
Been there; done that. I think if Rivera or Del Rio wanted to bring McGee back to DC, someone would have a quiet word with them, but, all things considered, I doubt they would ever entertain the thought anyway.

Wes Horton DL
Horton has been on and off the Panthers roster since 2013, and spent the 2019 off-season with the Saints. He is basically a replacement-quality backup, and of no consequence in an article like this one.

Javien Elliott CB
Elliott is a replacement level DB who spent his entire career prior to 2019 on and off the Tampa Bay roster. There is no reason to expect him to be added to the Redskins roster.

Summary

Of the 14 pending Carolina veteran free agents whom Ron Rivera might reasonably target to bring to Washington, less than half seem to fit the bill, being “Rivera guys” who are talented, good contract value, likely to be allowed to leave Carolina, and filling a position of need for the Redskins.

Most LIkely

Tre Boston - this would be based primarily on Redskins need at FS position

Reasonable possibility

Greg van Roten LG - van Roten probably defines the type of player who moves with a coach (in this case, with head coach, OC and offensive line coach) from one team to another. A low-cost, low-key player who can contribute on the new roster. I can’t get the Tom Compton/Kyle Shanahan comparison out of my mind.

Mario Addison DE/OLB - Seems like fit for the Redskins DE group in a 4-3; Washington probably needs one player at this position. You could probably forget this entirely if the Redskins plan to draft Chase Young.

Daryl Williams OL - Like van Roten, I could see Williams following Rivera, Turner and Masko to their new team. The coaches would be in the best position to project whether Williams is likely to return to his 2017 pre-injury form. If he came to the Redskins, he could potentially step in at right tackle or either guard position as a starter, or could provide quality backup to all three positions.

Possible, but not likely

Kyle Love DL - The Redskins don’t really need another interior D lineman if they are shifting to a 4-3 defense, but Love would be cheap, and he played his entire career under Rivera and Sam Mills.

Probably not

James Bradberry CB - I’d be surprised to see the Panthers let their starting CB walk, but if he did, he would probably be a decent fit with the current Redskins DBs. However, neither Chris Harris, reported to be the Redskins new DB coach, nor Jack Del Rio, the new defensive coordinator, have any history with the Panthers, which mitigates any contribution Bradberry would have as far as contributing knowledge of scheme. Overall, the DB doesn’t look like he fits the mold of a “new culture” signing.

Poll

How many former 2019 Carolina Panthers players do you think will be on the Redskins 2020 regular season roster?

This poll is closed

  • 8%
    zero
    (146 votes)
  • 72%
    1 or 2
    (1195 votes)
  • 16%
    3 or 4
    (279 votes)
  • 1%
    5 or more
    (25 votes)
1645 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Of the players listed below, which one do you think would be the best choice to add to the Redskins roster in 2020?

This poll is closed

  • 62%
    Tre Boston FS
    (965 votes)
  • 5%
    Greg van Roten LG
    (84 votes)
  • 1%
    Mario Addison DE/OLB
    (26 votes)
  • 17%
    Daryl Williams OL (RT, LG, RG)
    (265 votes)
  • 0%
    Kyle Love DT
    (9 votes)
  • 12%
    James Bradberry CB
    (190 votes)
1539 votes total Vote Now