While general manager Marty Hurney has done a commendable job thus far in free agency shoring up the Panthers weak spots, there is one player from Carolina’s 2018 roster who is still a free agent and should probably be brought back into the fold. That man — and that marvelous belly — is defensive tackle Kyle Love.
The Panthers defensive tackle situation today is less than ideal. Kawann Short is a beast and coming off his second Pro Bowl season, so no concerns there. Dontari Poe was a big-money free agent signing in 2018 but didn’t have the impact many of us had hoped for (17 tackles, one sack, three quarterback hits). Vernon Butler hasn’t lived up to his 2016 first round draft pick status with just 45 career tackles and two sacks in 38 largely ineffective games. The only other defensive tackles currently on the roster are Woodrow Hamilton and Elijah Qualls.
Depth is always needed at defensive tackle because players are rotated out so frequently to catch their breath. The position is often a four-man rotation where even the third and fourth players on the depth chart play a lot of snaps. In 2018, for example, Kawann Short played in 59 percent of Carolina’s defensive snaps while fellow starter Dontari Poe played in 52 percent. Filling in the gaps were Love with 47 percent and Butler with 33 percent. The defensive tackle position normally requires four capable players, and as of today the Panthers only have two in Short and Poe. All eyes will be on Butler in 2019 with the hope he has a breakout season and avoids the “first round bust” label, but if that doesn’t happen then the Panthers are shockingly thin at defensive tackle.
Kyle Love has proven to be a capable rotational player with a reasonable cap hit during his five season season in Carolina. He just completed a two-year, $2.2 million contract and remains a free agent so my assumption is he could be signed to a deal somewhere near the $1.1 million he made on his last last contract, but that’s just speculation on my part. While the Panthers have limited cap space, that’s not a bad cap hit for a proven veteran who can be counted on to play nearly half of then team’s defensive snaps. And as far as the cap goes, there’s a certain wide receiver with a $5.0 million cap hit who can still be released before the season to free up some additional funds (Torrey Smith, I’m looking in your general direction.)
It’s hard to assess how productive defensive tackles are by just looking at traditional stats like tackles and sacks so let’s look at how both Pro Football Focus and Pro Football Reference graded the Panthers defensive tackles in 2018. PFF was high on Love as his 77.3 grade ranked No. 31 among interior defensive linemen. This puts Love behind Short (83.7) but ahead of Poe (69.0) and Butler (63.5). On the other hand, Pro Football Reference gave Love an Approximate Value (AV) of 2 in 2018, which isn’t good. This trailed both Short (8) and Poe (6), but once again put him ahead of Butler (1).
At age 32 Love’s best years are probably behind him, but the Panthers should be in win-now mode and can prioritize production over youth in some cases. Plus, Love has shown no signs of slowing down. In fact, PFF named him as the Panthers most improved player of 2018. The big guy still has some gas left in the tank.
Because the Panthers have more pressing needs to address in the draft than defensive tackle, bringing Kyle Love back on a reasonable deal makes a lot of sense to me. He would provide capable depth at a position that will always need it, all without breaking the bank.
What’s not to love about that?