Starting today, beginning at the bottom of the ranking, I will list the players and whether they likely will fit into Carolina's future.
21. Jimmy Clausen
He only made this list because he technically is scheduled to become a UFA... I don't see any interest here unless the team has trouble re-signing backup Derek Anderson or officials simply want bodies for competition in camp...
20. Brandon LFell
It may surprise you that I have the team's No. 2 receiver so low. Here's why: I don't think he offers enough to be the No. 2 receiver even though he has proven to be a solid blocker and he had a career-best 49 catches last season...The Panthers likely will address the No. 2 receiver in the draft or free agency, so it's time to part with LaFell. The team needs a more explosive weapon opposite Steve Smith. They also need a future replacement for Smith, who will be entering his 14th season...
19. Drayton Florence
He played a big role in nickel coverage, but more importantly helped bring stability and a sense of camaraderie to the unit by taking them out to team dinners and building team unity...But he'd be returning for a 12th season, and he's already hinted at retirement. This could be the end of the line for him.
18. Geoff Hangartner
The Panthers let him go in August because they wanted to build around young players such as Amini Silatolu and Edmund Kugbila...Hangartner will be entering his 10th season. He was on the field for only two plays in the regular-season finale. With Silatolu and Kugbila back, along with Chris Scott and Nate Chandler, making the roster and guard would be a long shot.
17. Dan Connor
He signed a one-year deal in November when Blackburn was dealing with a foot injury. He was inactive the final two games and his only two tackles came on special teams...the former third-round pick out of Penn State has done little to justify a roster spot...
16. Jason Williams
...He was re-signed in mid-October to take some of the special teams load off of Blackburn...Williams' blocked punt against the New York Jets with Carolina leading 16-13 in the fourth quarter was huge in a 30-20 win that kept the team alive for the NFC South title. He could return in a special teams role if the price is right.
15. Bruce Campbell
There was a time when he was considered a possible future candidate to replace Jordan Gross at left tackle...he may be worth another look for a team that could use depth on the line...he definitely has the size. And he has athletic ability. He's not ready to replace Gross, but he may have value.
14. James Dockery
...At 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds he offers size at corner that the team lacks. His value may depend on what the team gets in the draft, but he may be worth another look...
13. Colin Cole
At 33...He was a big reason the team ranked No. 2 in the league at stopping the run...re-signing Cole will come down to money and the value of his experience versus developing another young player. But remember, one of the strengths of the tackles last season was the luxury to rotate four players. I could see Cole coming back as a backup at a bargain price.
12. Travelle Wharton
The 32-year-old wasn't re-signed until right before the season with starting left guard Amini Silatolu and fourth-round pick Edmund Kugbila nursing injuries. Both eventually went on injured reserve. Both also will be back next season. The Panthers also haveNate Chandler and Chris Scott at guard...
11. Jordan Senn
...He was voted the special-teams captain in 2012 and was a big reason the team was one of the best at covering punts and kickoffs this past season...for a financially strapped team looking for value and a player they know will contribute on special teams, he could be a bargain. When you have 21 UFAs, you're looking for bargains.
10. Derek Anderson
...He understands what offensive coordinator Mike Shula wants and he's been a positive influence on starter Cam Newton. With Newton averaging 122 rushes in his first three seasons, the team has been fortunate he hasn't been injured enough to start. At some point it could happen, and it makes sense to have Anderson ready when it does....He seems content being Newton's backup and he shouldn't come at a high price. It just makes sense.
9. Captain Munnerlyn
He had a career-best 78 tackles and three sacks. He had two interceptions, and returned both for touchdowns. He proved he could be an every-down cornerback...At the same time, you can't help but see visions of Miami receiver Mike Wallace beating Munnerlyn deep -- twice for long catches...You can't help but wonder if the 5-foot-9 Munnerlyn could have made the play that 6-3 Richard Sherman made to put Seattle in the Super Bowl...he said after the season he wanted a long-term deal, and to be compensated for everything he proved this season. That might put a team with limited cap space in position to look in another direction.
8. Domenik HixonBecause of a preseason injury and playing the same position as No. 1 receiver Steve Smith, Hixon never really got a chance to show what he could do...Because Gettleman likes the leadership and class of Hixon, and [Gettleman] believes at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds Hixon has all the physical attributes to be a solid receiver...He can do many of the small things that LaFell did well, such as block and run good routes. The team just needs to find out if Hixon can consistently make the big catches that LaFell never did. That he won't demand a high dollar makes sense for a team fighting salary-cap issues.
7. Ted Ginn Jr.
...Ginn's ability to stretch the field with the speed that makes him such a threat as a kick returner opened a lot of eyes. He caught 36 passes for 556 yards and five touchdowns. He also was among the league leaders in punt returns with an average of 12.2 yards....Newton needs weapons like this to make him more effective as a passer and runner, the latter because teams can't keep the safeties in tight to stop him....
6. Ben Hartsock
...The Panthers need Hartsock for what he does best, block. It may be time to develop a younger player here. Hartsock will be 34 when the 2014 season starts....Hartsock likes Charlotte and wants to stay here. So as with many of those I mentioned in the top 10, he could come at a bargain price for a team looking for bargains...
5. Graham Gano...Gano had the NFL's highest touchback percentage (79.7) for any kicker since 1994...He converted 24 of 27 field goal attempts, including all six attempts of 50-plus yards and five of seven between the 40 and 49. He was perfect on all 42 extra point attempts. There weren't many kickers in the league better. When you have a defense as stingy as Carolina's, along with a ball-control offense, having a threat at kicker is important because you're going to be in a lot of close games...
Newton is rolling out the list gradually.
Clausen and Lafell speak for themselves. Newton noted Florence and Hangman's leadership, but basically said they are near the end of their careers, while we're moving younger.
Dan Connor and Jason Williams are basically expendable because of the logjam at linebacker. Williams is solid depth however, particularly on special teams. Bruce Campbell and James Dockery will probably come down to whether the depth that they may add at their respective positions is worth a roster spot, particularly depending on what we do in the draft. Speaking of depth, that may be the only reason that either Colin Cole or Travelle Wharton are re-signed, as we have younger players that will hopefully develop into players that are even more productive. Speaking of productive, Jordan Senn has been very productive at special teams, and the LB can be used on defense in a pinch. I'd be surprised if this last player outside of Newton's top 10 doesn't make the squad.
Derek Anderson comes in as Newton's first top 10 priority. I agree, but I son't see drafting a young QB to push for backup in the event that D.A. re-signs because of other priorities. One of those priorities may be signing another CB if the Panthers can't come to an agreement with Captain Munnerlyn who wants a long term contract after having his most productive season. If nothing else, Munnerlyn adds depth at the position, so his re-signing may be a priority at the right price. Munnerlyn probably shouldn't be a starting corner, much like Domenik Hixon should only be relied on in case of injury or four-receiver sets (which we might run once a season ***sarcasm***) One receiver that I would like to see on the field more (particularly in the bunch-formations) is Ted Ginn Jr., ranked just ahead of Hixon. Ginn is not really a go-to guy, but he's just the type of WR we need to take pressure off our WR1 and WR2. Speaking of taking pressure off, Graham Gano takes a lot of pressure off the defense by pinning the opposition on the 20, percentage-wise, more than any other kicker in the league. He has a superbly strong leg, and Gano has been a lot more accurate on his field goals than in the past. Graham didn't miss too much last season, but the Panthers missed Ben Hartsock when he went down for the season. Dave Gettleman explicitly referred to Hartsock's injury when speaking about the running game's less than spectacular results this past season.