In the five seasons that have passed since the retirement of franchise great Jordan Gross, the Carolina Panthers have had five different players start most of the season at left tackle. In 2019, that number will likely increase to six.
With the Panthers’ decision to re-sign All-Pro right tackle Daryl Williams to a one-year contract on Wednesday, the team is now faced with the unenviable situation of having two high-level right tackles. Taylor Moton excelled at the position in relief of Williams in 2018, which now leaves the team in a situation where they will likely have to move either Moton or Williams to left tackle.
Though Moton has experience playing left tackle (And Panthers head coach Ron Rivera recently stated that he feels comfortable with Moton playing the position if needed), he is a right tackle by trade – as is Williams. And with Williams hardly certain to be the same player he was before missing almost the entire 2018 season with a major knee injury or to have a future in the Carolinas beyond 2019, moving either Williams or Moton to left tackle for a season does not solve the Panthers’ long-standing issue of instability at left tackle.
In the time since the retirement of Jordan Gross following the 2013 season, the Panthers have gone through five different left tackles in five seasons: Byron Bell proved not to be the answer in 2014, leading the Panthers to sign Michael Oher for the 2015 season. Oher would play very well in 2015, but was knocked out for most of the 2016 season with a concussion, forcing Mike Remmers from right to left tackle. The Panthers tried to find a franchise left tackle in free agency by signing Matt Kalil for the 2017 season, only for Kalil to not play up to his massive contract. After Kalil was sidelined for the 2018 season with a knee injury, Chris Clark was tasked with protecting Cam Newton’s blindside for most of the season.
Naturally, the Panthers’ revolving door at one of the most important positions on the offensive line has kept the unit from realizing its potential, and has at times compromised their ability to keep Newton upright. But fortunately, a blueprint exists for the Panthers to use one of their right tackles on the left side of the offensive line in 2019 – while still finding and developing a franchise left tackle.
When both Williams and Moton were rookies, the Panthers opted to take a safe approach to their development by having the two serve as top reserve tackles: Williams would appear in 10 games with two starts in his rookie year of 2015, while Moton was used sparingly in all 16 games of his rookie year primarily as an extra offensive lineman. Given the players that both would turn into, this strategy worked rather well. And theoretically, the Panthers could follow that same path again by taking a left tackle in the early rounds of the Draft and having him serve as a top reserve lineman while grooming him to take over the left tackle position in 2020. Following this train of thought, such a player could presumably serve in the role that the Panthers used Marshall Newhouse in during the 2018 season.
While there will be a number of enticing options at left tackle in the first round of the draft (Namely Alabama’s Jonah Williams and Ole Miss’ Greg Little), spending one’s first pick on an offensive lineman has become a risky proposition – As evidenced by the number of recent high-profile offensive line draft busts to come out of the first round (Such as Luke Joeckel and Ereck Flowers, both of whom were Top 10 picks yet failed miserably with their respective teams.) For their part, the Panthers have had great success finding offensive linemen in the draft’s later rounds: Pro Bowler Trai Turner was a third-round pick in 2014, while Williams and Moton were taken in the fourth and second rounds respectively. Former Panthers guard Andrew Norwell, meanwhile, was signed by the team as an undrafted free agent before becoming an All-Pro.