The Carolina Panthers have long been a team of resilience and untapped potential. They have occasionally tantalized their fanbase with flashes of brilliance. As they look to build on the foundation laid over the past few seasons, the 2024 offseason presents a crucial opportunity to bolster their roster and make a significant push toward contention. With the 2024 NFL Draft now behind them, the Panthers must turn their attention to the free agent market. The Panthers want to address lingering gaps and ensure they have the depth and talent necessary to compete at the highest level. Here, we delve into three free agents the Panthers must target to elevate their squad for the upcoming season.

Reflecting on the 2023 Season

The 2023 NFL season was a disappointing one for the Carolina Panthers, marked mostly by lows. Under the leadership of head coach Frank Reich, the team showcased fleeting moments of promise, particularly with the continued development of rookie quarterback Bryce Young. However, the Panthers finished the season with a dismal 2-15 record, missing the playoffs yet again. Injuries and inconsistencies plagued their campaign, especially on the defensive side of the ball and within the offensive line. However, the emergence of key players such as wide receiver DJ Chark Jr and linebacker Frankie Luvu provided a glimmer of hope for the future. Sadly, both are no longer on the roster. The 2023 season, while disappointing in terms of results, set the stage for a potentially transformative offseason.

Panthers Dave Canales and Bryce Young with NFL Free Agency signing Damien Lewis

The Panthers' 2024 NFL Draft

In the 2024 NFL Draft, the Panthers took significant strides toward addressing their most pressing needs. With their first-round pick, they selected wideout Xavier Legette from South Carolina, a move aimed at solidifying their receiving core around Young. Legette's size, athleticism, and skillset should give Young a promising target to work with. In the subsequent rounds, Carolina focused on bolstering their offense even more. They picked up versatile running back Jonathon Brooks from Texas and an explosive TE J’Tavion Sanders also from Texas. These additions signal a clear intent to unlock their offensive capabilities. However, despite a strong draft, there remain critical gaps that free agency could fill.

Here we'll look at the three free agent players whom the Carolina Panthers must target after the 2024 NFL Draft.

Yannick Ngakoue, EDGE

First and foremost, the Panthers must target veteran edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue. Ngakoue’s ability to pressure quarterbacks and disrupt offensive plays makes him an invaluable asset for any defense. Remember that he has recorded nearly 8.0 sacks per season over 2021-2023, maintaining his reputation as one of the league’s premier pass rushers. Take note that the Panthers’ defense struggled to generate consistent pressure last season. They would benefit immensely from Ngakoue’s presence. His quick first step and relentless motor could transform Carolina’s front seven into a feared unit. He would complement fellow veteran Shaq Thompson and fill the void left by Luvu, who's now with the Commanders. Securing Ngakoue would not only improve their pass rush. It would also uplift the entire defense’s performance.

Dalton Risner, OL

Next on the list should be sturdy offensive guard Dalton Risner. His experience and versatility on the offensive line would provide an immediate upgrade to a unit that struggled with injuries and inconsistency last year. The Panthers did not draft an offensive lineman so adding a proven guard like Risner could ensure that the interior line is equally fortified. Risner is known for his robust blocking in both the run and pass game. His leadership qualities would also be invaluable in mentoring younger linemen. Risner's presence would not only enhance the line’s stability. It would also create better opportunities for the Panthers’ running backs. This could make the offense more balanced and effective.

John Johnson III, S

Los Angeles Rams safety John Johnson III (43) celebrates after intercepting a pass against the Washington Commanders in the second half at SoFi Stadium
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Finally, the Panthers should set their sights on versatile safety John Johnson III. He brings both experience and playmaking ability to the secondary. Johnson, formerly of the Cleveland Browns and Los Angeles Rams, is known for excelling in multiple defensive schemes. With the Panthers’ secondary showing signs of vulnerability in coverage, Johnson’s addition could be a game-changer. His ability to read offenses and make crucial plays on the ball would provide a significant boost to a young and developing secondary. Johnson’s leadership and experience would also help in grooming younger defensive backs. This would ensure a cohesive and resilient unit capable of standing up to the league’s top passing attacks.

Looking Ahead

Sure, the Carolina Panthers made notable improvements through the 2024 NFL Draft. They addressed their key offensive weaknesses and added potential stars. However, the job is far from done. The free agent market presents a golden opportunity for the Panthers to fill critical gaps and build a well-rounded, competitive team. By targeting Yannick Ngakoue, Dalton Risner, and John Johnson III, the Panthers can ensure they have the necessary talent to make a serious playoff push in the 2024 season. Each of these players brings a unique skill set that would address specific needs within the team. They would help provide a solid foundation for success. With the right acquisitions, the Panthers can finally turn their potential into reality and become a force to be reckoned with in the NFL.