The Carolina Panthers are unquestionably one of the teams to watch going into the 2023-24 NFL season. They have earned that with the aggressive moves they have made this offseason.
Now, whether or not, they succeed will be a completely different matter. When a daredevil wrestler takes a dive off the top of a ladder and crashes and burns, fans still pop. They are still entertained. The Panthers have pushed off the Texans and the Colts to reach the top rung of the NFL Draft ladder. They now sit very precariously on the edge, as we all watch to see if this franchise will tumble to its doom or successfully snag the gold that hangs above.
Simply put, Carolina is compelling again. Anytime a team trades up for the No. 1 overall pick they should instantly come into focus. It will be at least a couple years, though, before proper judgment can be passed on the Panthers future quarterback. In the meantime, they have been scouring NFL free agency to find reinforcements for the next face of the franchise.
While Fitterer did not sign anyone who could be considered a “big star,” he made a low-risk, good upside move that could reap benefits for this offense. Without further ado, or any more lengthy metaphors, here is the Panthers' sneakiest signing of 2023 NFL free agency.
DJ Chark is a sneaky good signing for Panthers
The Panthers big offseason move was always going to be their blockbuster trade with the Chicago Bears. They did not make one big splash in free agency but instead made a bunch of medium ones that were meant to build out their roster. With DJ Moore shipped out, offense had to be the top priority.
Miles Sanders enjoyed a career year with the Philadelphia Eagles, and Adam Thielen is a good veteran safety net for a rookie quarterback. However, it was Carolina's decision to sign DJ Chark to a one-year, $5 million contract that most earns my praise. Once on the cusp of a breakthrough, the 26-year-old wide receiver has become better known as an occasional big-play threat who struggles to stay on the field. Chark can still put it together in Charlotte.
And even if he never achieves top receiver production, the former second-round pick offers great value with his ability to make plays in traffic. The 6-foot-4 Chark can quickly turn 50-50 balls into his favor, something young signal-callers tend to rely on while they trudge through that inevitable, and sometimes lengthy adjustment period. Chark does not need a superstar throwing to him. He has proven that he can produce in multiple settings.
He recorded 73 receptions for 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns for the Jacksonville Jaguars to earn a Pro Bowl selection in the 2019-20 season. Chark has not flirted with top 25 wideout status since, but he adapted well with the Detroit Lions last year totaling 502 receiving yards in 11 games. There are no noticeable cons to this acquisition.
Chark gives head coach Frank Reich intriguing layers to this offense. Unfulfilled potential is not relevant to him or the organization. They are only concerned with utilizing the former LSU Tiger's current supply of talent. He will not be saddled with lofty expectations. Chark just has to come in and perform his role, which is mainly to help this impending No. 1 pick- likely Bryce Young or CJ Stroud– look good on the field and assimilate into the league.
There is no reason why the former Pro Bowler cannot be that guy. And who knows, there could still be high-level, consistent production waiting to break out. Thielen is 32, so Chark will have every opportunity to seize the No. 1 spot on the wide receiver depth chart.
Neutral NFL fans will remain apprehensive on all things Panthers until Fitterer and company prove they can assemble a winning football team. Many forget, though, that this team flashed promise late last season. One could argue they now boast more talent on the offensive side of the ball. And that is without the centerpiece even being slotted in.
Smart low-cost moves like adding DJ Chark is how scrappy teams become relevant teams.