And the Panthers are going to need new pieces because they are an old team. They cobbled together an effective pass rush without an elite end and now Charles Johnson is turning 30 with a cap figure of $15 million and 33-year old Jared Allen is washed up. Their middling wide receiver corps included 33-year old Jerricho Cotchery as the No. 2, though the return of Kelvin Benjamin from injury will help. The secondary has a lot of old guys, too.
A power running game offset Carolina’s mediocre receiving corps but two important pieces of that formula may be on the way out. Jonathan Stewart is set to count nearly $10 million against the salary-cap in 2016. Fullback Mike Tolbert is set to become a free agent.
The Panthers have to make calls on those players now while also trying to decide which players to lock up for the future. Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kawaan Short (26-years old) is eligible for free agency after next season. So is Star Lotulelei, who regressed this season in part because of a foot injury but still is a good piece. Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil can be a free agent after next season, too--he’s 30-years old but ask the Falcons about the potential perils of letting go of an older-but-effective center.
The Panthers are going to come back to the NFC South pack in 2016. They’ll probably be favored to win the division for the fourth consecutive year because, after all, they’ve won 20 of their past 23 games and still have the best quarterback in the division.
Early 2016 predictions already are high on the Panthers but that's before they make some inevitable changes. That's what happens to teams that make the Super Bowl.