4 pending free agents the Panthers should re-sign in 2024

For the second time in as many years, the Carolina Panthers are in the middle of building something new. So which players should stick around through the transition?

Here are four of the team’s pending free agents who should be re-signed this offseason:

OLB Brian Burns

Steph Chambers/Getty Images
Steph Chambers/Getty Images

The Panthers defense, which recorded the fewest sacks (27) and the fewest pressures (90) in 2023, is having trouble getting to opposing quarterbacks as it is. So imagine just how helpless they’d be without their top pass rusher.

Whether or not you believe Burns is worth the $30 million a year he’s reportedly seeking, the organization is already too deep into this hole. Not only have they raised his value by failing to roster any other formidable sack artists and turning down a massive haul for Burns from the Los Angeles Rams in 2022, but they also can’t afford to lose yet another first-round, homegrown talent. (See McCaffrey, Christian and Moore, DJ.)

At the core of what’s become an unexpectedly bumpy journey to a long-term pact is a player who teams look to build around. Burns is already a two-time Pro Bowl starter, a well-respected leader, a premium player at a premium position and is still just 25 years of age.

Heck, even if they have to tag-and-trade him, the Panthers have to find a way to get some sort of value out of the best player they’ve got.

LB Frankie Luvu

Grant Halverson/Getty Images
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Speaking of well-respected leaders, the Panthers would be in a pretty rough spot if they lost the heart of their defense.

Known as “Uce” to his teammates, Luvu has carved out quite a role for himself in Carolina. This dual-threat heat-seeking missile can man the middle and tally up the tackles just as well as he can fly off the edge and wreak havoc in the pocket.

Luvu was a key cog in Ejiro Evero’s defense, one that allowed the fourth-fewest yards per game this past season. So just as they did with Evero and his staff, keeping around one of the unit’s best chess pieces will go a long way in establishing something that’s been desperately missing for this franchise—continuity.

OLB Yetur Gross-Matos

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Like Luvu, Gross-Matos had himself a career campaign in Evero’s first year as the team’s defensive coordinator.

The fourth-year defender—who made the transition from a hand-in-the-dirt defensive end to an stand-up outside backer—hit bests in sacks (4.5), tackles for a loss (seven) and snap-to-pressure ratio (10:1). Oh, and that came in just 12 outings.

Still quite young at almost 26 years old, this former second-round pick could be on the verge of a breakout with another year in this system.

WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette

Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

The best trait a punt returner can probably have is confidence, and this dude has it in spades.

After picking up three different stops over the first two seasons of his NFL career, Smith-Marsette came to Carolina with a ton of self-belief. That poise translated into some electric plays, most notably a 79-yard return for a touchdown in Week 10 against the Chicago Bears.

Smith-Marsette also showed he can be an asset on offense, as evidenced by his 20-yard touchdown run past the Green Bay Packers in Week 16.

As ball carrier or pass catcher, the speedy receiver/returner/runner can provide some much-needed firepower if given the chance.

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Story originally appeared on Panthers Wire