Carolina Panthers receiver Devin Funchess will become a free agent this spring, when the new league year begins on March 13.
Funchess’ camp and the Panthers have not even begun talks to extend his four-year rookie deal, a league source told the Observer on Friday. So Funchess, 24, will hit the wide receiver market.
Funchess announced in a video posted to Twitter on Friday morning that he is a free agent looking for a new team.
Funchess, 24, was drafted out of Michigan by the Panthers in the second round of the 2015 NFL draft. Carolina paired him with 2014 first-round pick, Kelvin Benjamin, in the hopes of providing big targets — who excelled in the red zone — for quarterback Cam Newton.
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In 2017, Funchess had an opportunity to take on a larger role when Benjamin was traded to Buffalo that October. He excelled in the next four games, catching 21 passes for 346 yards. But a shoulder injury hindered him through the end of the season, and his production dipped.
The Panthers began the 2018 season with Funchess as the No. 1 receiver, but as the weeks passed they moved toward a smaller, quicker and more versatile offense with the emergence of dynamic receiving/rushing trio Christian McCaffrey, Curtis Samuel and last spring’s first-round draft pick, DJ Moore.
Funchess’ targets peaked in Week 7 against Philadelphia, and then continued to drop. In a Week 11 loss to Detroit, Funchess’ hometown, he had at least four drops on eight targets. Funchess missed the following week with a back injury, then had three catches on 11 targets in his next four games.
He was a healthy scratch in the Panthers’ season finale at New Orleans, which head coach Ron Rivera called a “coach’s decision”.
The Panthers want to continue to develop Samuel and Moore, and Moore is expected to take on the role of a No. 1 receiver in 2019, while playing multiple receiving positions. Moore finished the season with 55 catches for 788 yards and two touchdowns, and 172 rushing yards on 13 carries. Moore also led the league among receivers in yards after the catch (YAC) per reception with 7.9.
But Rivera said he isn’t closed to the idea of adding more weapons for Newton in this year’s NFL draft.
“I think the biggest thing is what (a prospect) can do once the ball is in his hands,” said Rivera on Thursday. “If he can go out and make the contested catches, it’s very important. So is his willingness to block.
“But then, once you get past those things, what happens once he gets the ball in his hands? That’s what we really saw last year with the guys that we had. Really saw DJ make things happen. Curtis was very explosive and dynamic ... I think just finding a really good football player, just a guy (who), when he gets the ball in his hands is going to be explosive and dynamic.”