The news that Daryl Williams will likely be leaving Carolina in free agency should force the Panthers to take a tackle in the first round of the draft.
General Manager Marty Hurney understands that his Panthers have two pressing needs to fill this offseason. The team must find a top flight tackle to protect Cam Newton as well as an edge rusher to replace Julius Peppers. Unfortunately for the Carolina front office, the impending free agency departure of Daryl Williams is going to force their hand in round one of the draft.
Contract talks between the talented tackle and the Panthers have “stalled” and now a departure from Charlotte seems inevitable for Williams. That isn’t an entirely unexpected event in Carolina, but it’s still somewhat disappointing. In a perfect world, the franchise could have brought Williams back for a reasonable price. That would have given Hurney and company some valuable flexibility heading into April’s draft.
Heading into the 2019 season with Taylor Moton as the starter at right tackle and Matt Kalil as Newton’s blind side protector just isn’t an acceptable outcome for the Panthers’ offseason. One way or another, Kalil has to be replaced. Retaining him for depth is a defensible decision by the front office, but projecting him to be the starter at left tackle is not.
That leaves the Panthers with two choices. They can either shop for a direct replacement to supplant Kalil on the left, or they can plan to move Moton over to play the position. Either choice will require Carolina to find a starter in the offseason.
The team’s lack of cap space combined with the lack of quality tackles available in free agency make that a pretty unlikely method of acquisition. There’s a reason Williams is looking to hit the open market. He’s possibly the best tackle available in this year’s free agency clash. If the Panthers can’t afford him, it’s obvious they can’t attract a superior veteran option.
That leaves the draft as the vehicle the Panthers must use to find a new starter at tackle. That’s not an easy proposition either. Loads of NFL teams would love to acquire a young, relatively inexpensive starting tackle in the draft. Carolina will have to use a significant amount of their draft capital to beat out the competition.
Very simply, the Panthers must shift their focus in round one from edge rushers to edge protectors. Fortunately for head coach Ron Rivera and company, this year’s draft is deep on the defensive line. That means Carolina can wait until Day Two to find a successor for Peppers. Guys like Zach Allen and Chase Winovich could draw strong interest from the Panthers at that point in the draft.
It’s possible that Carolina will have their pick of offensive tackles when they go on the clock with the No. 16 selection. At worst, they should be in position to grab a player in the top-tier at the crucial position. Nabbing someone like Jonah Williams or Jawaan Tayler would be ideal. At worst, the Panthers could come away with an intriguing left tackle like Andre Dillard.
Protecting the quarterback has to be a huge priority for the Panthers in 2019. That can’t happen without upgrading the options at offensive tackle. Look for Carolina to address that concern on Day 1 of the 2019 NFL Draft.