Through draft or free agency, work to do at safety

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Sports - BY MARCEL LOUIS-JAC­QUES mlouis­[email protected] char­lot­teob­server.com Pro Foot­ball Fo­cus, ball Fo­cus. Pro FootMar­cel Louis-Jac­ques: 704-358-5015, @Marcel_LJ

As­sess­ing the Carolina Pan­thers’ sta­tus and needs, po­si­tion by po­si­tion, ahead of free agency and the NFL draft. Next up: Safeties.

THREE THINGS TO KNOW

Both starters are

free agents: Mike Adams and Eric Reid are up for new deals, so it’s pos­si­ble the Pan­thers open the 2019 sea­son with­out at least one of their starters from 2018. Adams said he wants to play in 2019 — he’d be 38 — while Reid said he wants “mar­ket value” for his next con­tract. Con­sid­er­ing the team prob­a­bly won’t want to break in a com­pletely new safety duo, it’s likely one of them re­turns.

There isn’t a lot of

depth: Not start­ing-cal­iber depth, at least — it’s some­what of a com­mon theme through­out the Pan­thers’ sec­ondary. Colin Jones can play in a pinch and Da’Norris Searcy was a qual­ity sign­ing last off­sea­son but missed the bet­ter part of 15 games in 2018. Rookie Rashaan Gaulden didn’t get much ex­tended ac­tion this sea­son but re­mains a key part of the team’s plans.

They’re un­der Ron

Rivera’s tute­lage — for now: As part of a mid­sea­son coach­ing change, Rivera took over de­fen­sive play-call­ing and took more con­trol over coach­ing the sec­ondary. He’ll re­main the play-caller next sea­son but the Pan­thers will likely hire a sec­ondary coach.

ON THE ROS­TER

Eric Reid: The high

est-graded mem­ber of the Pan­thers’ sec­ondary, per

joined the team in Week 5 and played no less than 79 per­cent of the team’s de­fen­sive snaps over its fi­nal 13 games. He recorded 71 tack­les, one sack and one in­ter­cep­tion in what was essen­tially a “prove it” sea­son. Ron Rivera ex­pressed in­ter­est in bring­ing Reid back this off­sea­son, and Reid said he en­joys be­ing in Char­lotte.

Mike Adams: The

age­less won­der Adams added three in­ter­cep­tions to his ca­reer to­tal in 2018 but ul­ti­mately turned in the low­est-graded sea­son of his ca­reer, per

Al­though he’s an al­ways-needed vet­eran pres­ence in the locker room, the Pan­thers could de­cide not to re-sign Adams as they look to get younger on de­fense.

Rashaan Gaulden:

The Pan­thers’ third-round pick in 2018 only played 15 per­cent of the team’s snaps dur­ing his rookie sea­son. The Pan­thers’ trust in him af­ter his lim­ited role this sea­son will not only de­ter­mine whether they re-sign Adams, but also how they ap­proach the po­si­tion this off­sea­son via the draft and free agency.

Also: Spe­cial teams

● main­stay Colin Jones adds depth while Da’Norris Searcy should re­turn to ac­tion af­ter a con­cus­sion forced him to miss the team’s fi­nal 14 games.

FREE AGENT POS­SI­BIL­I­TIES

●Ha Ha Clin­ton-Dix:

The for­mer sec­ond-team All-Pro safety was traded from Green Bay to Wash­ing­ton and turned in one of the best sea­sons of his ca­reer. He hasn’t missed a game in his five pro­fes­sional sea­sons and likely won’t be cheap to sign.

LaMar­cus Joyner:

The Los An­ge­les Rams could want to re-sign Joyner for con­ti­nu­ity’s sake, but his mar­ket value could push eight fig­ures. Ei­ther way, the con­verted cor­ner­back set a ca­reer­high in tack­les in 2018 and will be an in­ter­est­ing name to watch this off­sea­son.

Earl Thomas: The

● five-time first-team All­Pro has likely played his fi­nal snap in Seat­tle, con­sid­er­ing he missed the fi­nal 12 games of the sea­son with a bro­ken leg he suf­fered af­ter end­ing a hold­out in hopes of a new con­tract. He has been linked to the Dal­las Cow­boys, but with sev­eral key play­ers need­ing new con­tracts soon, they may not be will­ing to shell out too much money for him. At only 30 years old, he still has foot­ball left in him.

DRAFT POS­SI­BIL­I­TIES

Deionte Thomp­son,

Alabama: Thomp­son has great size for the po­si­tion and a pedi­gree from Alabama, a pro­gram that gen­er­ally churns out good de­fen­sive pros. He was ex­posed a bit in the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off Cham­pi­onship Game against Clem­son’s elite re­ceivers, but it shouldn’t dras­ti­cally af­fect his firstround draft grade.

Tay­lor Rapp, Wash

in­g­ton: Rapp is a re­li­able tack­ler who spent three sea­sons in Wash­ing­ton’s vaunted sec­ondary, where he flashed play­mak­ing in­stinct and ver­sa­til­ity. He won’t get pushed around by tight ends at 6-foot, 210 pounds, and he’s still quick enough to keep up with re­ceivers on short-toin­t­er­me­di­ate routes. He isn’t par­tic­u­larly fast, how­ever, and should come off the board around the sec­ond round.

Jaquan John­son,

Mi­ami: John­son was highly pro­duc­tive dur­ing his fi­nal two sea­sons at The U, rack­ing up 188 tack­les, six in­ter­cep­tions and two fum­ble re­cov­er­ies. He’s al­most rem­i­nis­cent of Reid as far as his phys­i­cal­ity goes and is an op­tion in the sec­ond round.

THE BOT­TOM LINE

The Pan­thers have sev­eral roads to choose from this off­sea­son, but all of them should end in an im­proved sec­ondary. Reid is a start­ing-cal­iber player who knows the sys­tem and is well-liked in the locker room. Carolina could choose to sign Reid and draft a re­place­ment for Adams, but it seems un­likely the team lets both play­ers walk.

As far as ad­di­tions, the Pan­thers have big­ger needs to ad­dress in the first round of the draft, so don’t ex­pect them to take Thomp­son. If Rapp or John­son falls to them in the sec­ond round, how­ever, don’t be sur­prised if one of their names is called. Carolina doesn’t have an ex­trav­a­gant amount of cap space this off­sea­son but if there’s mu­tual in­ter­est be­tween the team and Clin­ton-Dix, sign­ing the 26-year-old would go a long way to­ward so­lid­i­fy­ing the back­end of this sec­ondary, long-term.

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