For the past two free agency periods, the Carolina Panthers have waited for the market to settle before filling needs in the defensive backfield.
Expect that to continue in the third year of general manager Dave Gettleman’s tenure.
Carolina will go into free agency with three starting defensive back positions solidified: Josh Norman at cornerback, Bené Benwikere at nickel and Tre Boston at free safety.
Roman Harper would be the starter at strong safety if the season started today, but he’ll likely have competition at the position come training camp. The Panthers will also have to fill the other cornerback position.
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Gettleman will likely wait until the middle rounds to take a defensive back in the draft, and this year’s safety class isn’t good. With that in mind, here’s a look at some free-agent defensive backs around the league:
Out of the Panthers’ price range
Devin McCourty, S, New England: It appears the better McCourty twin is on his way out of Belichickland, and that will make him the top safety on the market. He had three interceptions last year, including one in the playoffs, and allowed just two touchdowns all season.
Byron Maxwell, CB, Seattle: The former Clemson standout will command at least $10 million per year after being Richard Sherman’s sidekick in the Legion of Boom. Maxwell will go to a team with deep pockets like the Jaguars, or a needy team like the Eagles.
Rahim Moore, S, Denver: Moore, 25, has tremendous upside. The Broncos can’t afford to bring the four-year veteran back at $5 million to $6 million a year, and that prices the Panthers out of the market as well.
Perrish Cox, CB, San Francisco: Cox could be the guy the Panthers wanted Antoine Cason to be last year. He stands to make more than $1 million next season, and his ability to return punts will interest a Panthers team still trying to figure out that special teams position.
Da’Norris Searcy, S, Buffalo: Coming off his rookie deal, Searcy is set to make between $2 million and $3 million next season after being the 18th-best safety in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. The former Tar Heel didn’t allow a touchdown last season and had three interceptions.
Walter Thurmond III, CB, New York Giants: The former Seahawk signed a one-year deal worth $3.5 million with the Giants last year but tore his pectoral muscle early in the season. He’ll be cheaper coming off that injury, and the Panthers wouldn’t mind infusing their secondary with some Seahawk blood.
Darius Butler, CB, Indianapolis: A former second-rounder, Butler spent 2011 with the Panthers. He enjoyed modest success with the Colts, and he’s familiar to secondary coach Steve Wilks.
Chris Conte, S, Chicago: The concussion-prone Conte just turned 26 and is at the end of his rookie deal. He won’t cost much to bring in, but he’s been susceptible to big plays.
Brandon Meriweather, S, Washington: A strong safety, Meriweather may not be anything more than what Roman Harper already offers. But he’s known as a big – sometimes dirty – hitter, and the Panthers could use some attitude in the secondary.
The bottom line
Don’t hold your breath for any big signings on Tuesday at the start of free agency. Under Gettleman, the Panthers have waited to let the market settle before going after cornerbacks and safeties. In 2013, Carolina signed just one defensive back – Drayton Florence – in the first week of free agency. Last year, the Panthers didn’t even sign their starting free safety – Thomas DeCoud – until a month after free agency started.
Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9