The Panthers overpaying Greg Olsen frees up their draft plans

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 07: Greg Olsen /

Overpaying Greg Olsen will help the Panthers loosen up their draft strategy.

Heading into today, many people believed the Carolina Panthers needed to draft a tight end with tonight’s first round pick. The team’s move to tie up Greg Olsen for another two seasons should drastically change their focus heading into tonight.

Per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Panthers have reached an agreement with Cam Newton’s favorite target to keep him in Carolina through the end of the 2019 season. To get Olsen’s signature on the dotted line, Marty Hurney and company had to agree to make him potentially the NFL’s highest-paid player at his position. With incentives, he could make just over $10 million per year.

While I question that sort of investment in a 33-year-old tight end, you can’t deny that it positively impacts the Panthers flexibility heading into the draft. Instead of being forced to reach for a tight end like South Carolina’s Hayden Hurst with the No. 24 selection they can focus their attention on other roster weaknesses.

Now the team can feel fully free to address their biggest need. The Panthers cannot afford to leave this draft without addressing their weaknesses in the secondary. Whether or not the team focuses on a corner or a safety in the first round is irrelevant. Help is needed at both spots.

Removing tight end from the mix in first round should free the Panthers up to take the best available defensive back regardless of position. Acquiring a safety to start next to 37-year-old Mike Adams would be an excellent strategy. Former Stanford safety Justin Reid will almost certainly be available when the Panthers are on the clock. The team could also hope for someone like Minkah Fitzpatrick or Derwin James to suffer a catastrophic fall. Getting one of the draft’s top two safeties is a long shot, but Reid would likely step right into the team and become a starter from day one.

It’s also entirely possible that Hurney and the rest of the scouting team see more value in the cornerback position. There should be some really intriguing players available to the Panthers at No. 24. A talented corner like Jaire Alexander or Jackson might be difficult to pass up. I prefer Alexander due to his athletic ability, but it’s hard to argue with Jackson’s ability to force turnovers with his supreme ball skills.

There is one more spot on the team that could also factor into Hurney’s first round thinking. It wouldn’t be a complete shock for the Panthers to try to find Andrew Norwell’s replacement. He really hurt the team by leaving to accept a big-money contract with Jacksonville this offseason. It might make sense for the team to secure a flexible inside lineman like Will Hernandez or Frank Ragnow on day one. Such a selection wouldn’t thrill Panthers fans on social media, but it would represent sensible value for the team.

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Credit the Panthers for making a decisive move to tie up Olsen before they make their first selection tonight. Clearing up the tight end position for the next two seasons will push the position much further down the team’s list of priorities. Look for Carolina to go with either a defensive back or interior lineman if they stay put at No. 24 tonight.