The Panthers' second week of the free-agency period was a lot better than the first, as the team made a splash (at least by their low-level free-agent standards) by signing return specialist Ted Ginn Jr. and have now also been able to re-sign cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and defensive tackle Dwan Edwards to one-year deals.
The Ginn signing was a small coup for new GM Dave Gettleman and should make Joe Adams, Kealoha Pilares and Armanti Edwards nervous. Those three guys all have gotten some kickoff and punt returning experience with Carolina, with very mixed results. Of the three, I think only one will likely be on the roster by the end of training camp.
Ginn should take over all return duties, and he might be the No.3 receiver as well (that's a little more questionable in my opinion, but certainly he's got a chance at it). Anyway, the days of the four-yard punt return are hopefully over. The Panthers' coverage teams improved a lot last year and will be helped by the re-signing of Jordan Senn. Ginn's arrival should help the return teams.
Getting Dwan Edwards back was less glamorous but no less essential. Defensive tackle is currently one of the thinnest positions on the team. Edwards is no young pup -- he turns 32 in May -- but he had a fine season in 2012 and the Panthers would love to get one more good year out of him in 2013.
Munnerlyn is a decent nickel cornerback, can fill in at punt returner (another reason for the returners mentioned earlier to be nervous) and knows what defensive coordinator Sean McDermott wants. He's been around long enough now he can actually qualify as a team leader. The Panthers have already added some more depth to the secondary, but who knows how that will turn out. Munnerlyn is a known commodity -- undersized but tough -- and there's no doubt he will see the field.
Getting Munnerlyn and Edwards back, as well as backup quarterback Derek Anderson for another year, are the sort of under-the-radar moves that ultimately make for a good team. As I've said before, the Panthers are in position for a good run in 2013, and I think they will make one. (And they better make one if Ron Rivera wants to coach a fourth season -- owner Jerry Richardson made him wait six days before telling him he could coach the upcoming season, his third).
The players they've lost or released in free agency -- Chris Gamble, James Anderson, Gary Barnidge -- will certainly sting a little, but that's not like losing Julius Peppers. To me, Gamble and Anderson were no longer difference-makers on the defense -- solid starters, yes, but not absolutely essential ones.
The draft on the other hand will be essential. Carolina needs help on both sides of the line and at wide receiver. The Panthers badly need to get at least one new starter on each side of the ball there. Because while they have been OK at holding the fort so far in free agency, other than Ginn they have made no significant upgrades. And if you're not getting better in the NFL, you're getting worse.