Carolina Panthers mailbag: Stephon Gilmore, Payton Wilson, Ejiro Evero, trading back and IPAs

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It’s been a while since we opened up the old mailbag. But in light of Wednesday’s news that Jadeveon Clowney is coming home — it would have really been a Rock Hill homecoming for Clowney had David Tepper not bailed on the team headquarters there — it seemed like an appropriate time for a call-and-response.

Many of you, dear readers, called. Now I’ll hold up my end of the deal with responses. There’s no sense dragging this intro out any longer: We’re headed into a holiday weekend, followed by spring break for Charlotte public schools. So in the immortal words of Kramer, let’s “giddyup.”

Do you expect the Panthers to look to move 33 or 39 to move back and acquire an additional Day 2 pick? If not, do you think they really stick to the “Best Player Available” model that seemingly every front office declares they will use? — Jeremy F.

There were a couple of variations of this theme, including one from Bryan F. about the possibility of the Panthers trading up into the latter part of Round 1. Given that the Panthers are rebuilding, even if they’re not calling it that, it’s much more likely Dan Morgan trades back in the second round. In fact, I’d be kind of surprised it he doesn’t. In looking at those two second-round selections, there’s greater value obviously in 33. A team that decides after Round 1 that it can’t live without Player X — let’s just use Xavier Worthy as a hypothetical — knows there’s a guaranteed way to draft him: Call Morgan and work out a trade for the first pick of Day 2. This makes perfect sense, especially since the Panthers still have 39 at their disposal. Morgan can pick up additional lottery picks — maybe even recoup next year’s second that went to Chicago in last year’s blockbuster — and start shaping the roster as he and Canales see fit.

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The Panthers are still short a starting CB. What do you think is the plan? Stephon Gilmore? Draft? — Hunt M.

While I tend to agree with the premise of your question, Morgan is more bullish on Dane Jackson, whom he lobbied for the Bills to draft (in the seventh round in 2020) when Morgan was on Brandon Beane’s staff in Buffalo. Jackson was more a dependable backup and special teams contributor in Buffalo who would get exposed in coverage when he would start several games in a row. Maybe Jackson, who’s only 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, could thrive as a full-time starter under Ejiro Evero and Jonathan Cooley. But I’d expect the Panthers to take a corner fairly high in the draft if they don’t sign a veteran such as Gilmore, who won a state championship with Clowney at South Pointe High in 2008. The Panthers have reached out to the 33-year-old Gilmore, who’s continued to play at a high level after his cameo in Charlotte in 2021. The addition of Clowney, who also was a college teammate of Gilmore’s at South Carolina, won’t be the determining factor in terms of where Gilmore signs. But it certainly can’t hurt.



Jadeveon Clowney’s homecoming: Panthers get the edge rusher they needed

Is there a succession plan for Shaq? — Eric C.

I’ve seen no discussion about us taking Payton Wilson with our second-round pick. While we may have other positions of greater need, this guy reminds me of Dan or Luke. We need that defensive leader in the middle as much as we need speed on the outside and interior blocking. Do you get any sense he’s being considered? — Ben H.

Shaq Thompson turns 30 in April, is coming off a fractured fibula and is one of only two players remaining from the 2015 Super Bowl team. (Jeffrey Richard, aka J.J., Jansen is the other.) So it’s not a bad idea to start thinking about life after Shaq, who agreed to have his contract reworked for the second year in a row and appears to have switched back to No. 54 to free up No. 7 for Clowney, who wore that number in college. Wilson is an interesting prospect on several levels, beginning with the fact that he’s good at football. He’s also from the Carolinas — unscientifically, the Panthers seem to bring in more locals than other teams, and their fans (also, unscientifically) appear to appreciate the tradition. Lastly, Wilson has received high praise from Kuechly, who’s been something of a mentor to Wilson, and he plays the same position as Morgan. The concern with Wilson is his lengthy injury history. He’s undergone two ACL surgeries —– one in high school and another in college — and had a season-ending shoulder injury in 2021. So it’s tough to project where Wilson will be picked, although most analysts believe it will be on Day 2.

Payton Wilson did it all at NC State last season. He was ACC Defensive Player of the Year, a unanimous All-American and won the Butkus and Chuck Bednarik awards. (Kirby Lee / USA Today)

How can the Panthers create incentive for Evero to stay in Carolina after next year? It appears he’s had pull this offseason on many of the free agents he’s had past success with, and that’s a good sign. But other than winning, can he receive extra promotion or labels that elevate him formally in the organization? — Stephen H.

The next title for Evero will be “head coach,” and that could come as soon as next year if he oversees another top-five defense. The 43-year-old Evero has interviewed for head-coaching vacancies each of the past two hiring cycles, including twice with the Panthers. Carolina was able to block Evero from meeting with teams about defensive coordinator jobs because he remained under contract after receiving a multiyear deal in 2023. But there’s not much else the Panthers can do to sweeten the pot other than give Evero more money, which they may have already done. (Salaries of NFL coordinators and assistant coaches are treated like state secrets.) David Tepper has received his share of criticism for urging Frank Reich to retain a couple of Matt Rhule’s assistants last year, and rightly so. But Canales has spoken glowingly about the decision to keep Evero and the entire defensive staff intact, which allowed the first-time head coach to concentrate his efforts on the offensive side.



Panthers’ 7-round mock: A trade, a playmaker for Bryce Young and defensive help

On to the speed round …

Have you heard any talk of Brady Christensen getting reps at center? I always thought it would be a good spot for his athleticism and would increase his backup value if he could play all five for them. — Shane H.

I haven’t heard that from Canales or Morgan. But during the great tackle-vs.-guard debate early in Christensen’s career, Rhule mentioned he thought the former BYU All-American also could play center. Christensen might not have a starting spot on the Panthers’ line anymore. But he has what NFL types call “position flexibility,” meaning he might end up starting at several spots next fall.

We have our two route runners. Will that impact the “style” of receiver we look for in the second round? — Alexander S.

The kind that gets open and makes plays. Canales likes his guys to know all of the receiving spots. So while Adam Thielen is pretty well locked into the slot at this point in his career, my sense is the Panthers will prioritize speed and separation ability over whether a guy’s more of an X or Z.



Person: Panthers take risk in acquiring Diontae Johnson, but his upside is undeniable

Loved listening to Kuechly on the radio broadcasts. Do we know if he is going to continue doing that next season? — James M.

From everything I’ve been told, Kuechly has enjoyed his experience in the booth, where he called 13 games last season as part of an analyst rotation (with Jake Delhomme and longtime announcer Jim Szoke) alongside play-by-play voice Anish Shroff. And while nothing has been announced yet, it sounds like the broadcast crew will remain the same in 2024. Put another way, expect another season of Luuuuuke in the boooooth. 

Favorite Charlotte IPA? And more importantly, any chance in hell Tepper can score T. Swift tour dates this fall? — Teddy T.

I’ve been drinking mostly West Coast IPAs lately, which aren’t the easiest to find with all the hazy being brewed. One I’ve enjoyed a couple of times is Motivations of the Heart from Resident Culture, which is a bit of a mouthful when ordering but really tasty. As for getting in touch with your inner Swifty, the Chiefs play at Charlotte this fall. So maybe the stars will align.

(Top photo of Stephon Gilmore: Brandon Sloter / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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