How drafting Kony Ealy affects the future of Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy in Carolina

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As the 2014 NFL Draft positions itself in the rearview mirror, it’s time to analyze the results. We can give grades out to draft classes all we want, but at this point, it’s impossible to say anything concrete about the quality of the players selected. However, by looking at who the Carolina Panthers selected, we can get a read on what Dave Gettleman and Ron Rivera think about the current and future state of the roster. Yes, we already knew wide receiver was a concern before Kelvin Benjamin was drafted. It isn’t always that obvious though. Here are the key takeaways:

-Either Greg Hardy and/or Charles Johnson won’t be in Carolina in 2015

Yes Kony Ealy was a value pick after falling to the second round. However, there’s a reason why Gettleman said last week that he would take a pass rusher early if a good one fell to Carolina. The Panthers have committed $29 million in cap space to defensive ends this season, which may not be sustainable long-term. Hardy will be a free agent after next season and will command a massive contract from either Carolina or someone else. However, it may be more likely that that Johnson isn’t back. He’s set to count for a whopping $16.42 million against the cap this year and that number will rise to over $17 million in 2015. While Johnson is a borderline Pro Bowl level defensive end, he isn’t worth that much. Because of the guaranteed money former general manager Marty Hurney gave to Johnson (hence, former general manager), the Panthers would receive almost no cap relief from cutting him now. Next offseason, though, Carolina can generate $11 million in cap space from releasing Johnson so it seems to be a good bet that that will happen.

-The team has major concerns about the health of their offensive guards

Most of the focus on the Panthers offensive line this offseason has been on Jordan Gross retiring and Byron Bell moving to left tackle to replace him. Even if it had less fanfare, Travelle Wharton was a top five guard in the NFL last season and his retirement could be equally as devastating. There’s been hope that the team found two long-term starters at guard in the 2011 and 2012 drafts with Amini Silatolu and Edmund Kugbila respectively, but both are coming off of injuries that ended their season. By selecting Trai Turner in the third round, Gettleman is saying that he either doesn’t believe in one or both to be the starter or that he doesn’t trust their health. In both instances, there’s more faith in Silatolu, who was on the 2012 All-Rookie team. Rivera said Silatolu is ahead of Kugbila in their recoveries. Expect Silatolu and Turner to be starting at guard in 2014.

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  • ryan

    Would you say the same about Gaffney trimming those hurney contracts in the backfield? Gaffney/tolbert/barner saves a ton and should be pretty solid.

    • Reid Foster

      I would, but I think we knew Jonathan Stewart/DeAngelo Williams had limited time left in Carolina before they took Gaffney