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3 Questions Facing Panthers In Offseason

Heading into the off-season after a disappointing season, the Panthers have many questions facing them. Some big and tough decisions will need to be made to get them back to elite level (and back to the Superbowl). Here are three questions the team will need to answer in order to do so:

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1. Will RB Jonathan Stewart be a cap casualty?

At the moment, Stewart looks to be in the plans for the Panthers in 2017. But with his injury history and $8.25 million cap hit in the final year of his contract, the Panthers may look to move on to save some money. The team would save $4.75 million in cap money if they were to cut him, and could use the extra spending money to improve in other areas of the team. Plus, the team may be considering taking a premier prospect at running back like Leonard Fournette or Dalvin Cook with the eighth overall pick. Both would fit well in the role of a "work-horse" feature back, and would make Stewart expendable.

2. If Oher can't go, what is the plan at left tackle?

After missing the final 13 games of the season due to a concussion, the future of LT Michael Oher with the Panthers is up in the air. He has yet to be cleared from the concussion protocol, and his long-term health and availability are in serious question due to retirement rumors. So, what do the Panthers do?

There are options in free agency, such as Baltimore Ravens tackle Ricky Wagner, that they could look to fill the void. Wagner, primarily a right tackle for the Ravens, is a solid power run blocker and pass blocker. The Panthers could look to pick him up and slide him into the left tackle position.

The draft is not full of premier talent at the tackle position, but could look to bolster depth in the later rounds of the draft. Options there could be players such as Utah's Garett Bolles, or Florida State's Roderick Johnson. Both are big bodied, athletic, and raw prospects, with a lot of upside from both. The best scenario is that Oher can be a stop-gap for another year or two while the team develops a starter for the future.

3. Kawaan Short: To Tag or to Extend?

To tag or not to tag, that is the question. Short is a free agent for the first time of his career at 28 years-old. That is old for the first time, and if he were to get the long-term contract of five plus years he is looking for, he will be 33 years-old by the end of it. And he will most likely ask for upwards of $16 million per year, taking a lot of the teams cap space and limiting them from being able to improve in other areas.

If they apply the tag, they will give him $13.5 million fully guaranteed for the season and risk losing him next year. But the team has invested into younger talent at the defensive tackle position, drafting Vernon Butler in the first round of last year's draft. So they have flexibility if they cannot get a deal done by the July deadline for tagged players to extend their contracts. So, the worst case-scenario is that they only keep Short for another year while Butler gets another year to develop into the full-time starter. But hopefully something can get done to keep Short as an integral part of the defensive front.

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