Panthers part ways with veteran left tackle Kalil

NFL

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The salary-cap-strapped Carolina Panthers on Thursday cleared $7.25 in cap space by releasing veteran left tackle Matt Kalil.

The move, which leaves the team with a $14.7 million hit in dead money, has a post-June 1 designation.

Former general manager Dave Gettleman signed Kalil in free agency prior to the 2017 season to fill a void on the line and unite the former first-round pick by Minnesota with his brother and long-time Carolina center Ryan Kalil, who retired after this past season.

The five-year, $55.5 million deal for a player who missed most of the 2016 season with a hip injury was highly criticized by league pundits. The criticism continued as Kalil struggled early in the 2017 season, receiving a low 36.6 grade from Pro Football Focus that was one of the worst among starting left tackles.

He missed the 2018 season with a knee injury.

The release came shortly after the Panthers finalized the one-year, $6 million contract for tackle Daryl Williams to return. Williams graded out as one of the top right tackles in 2017 before missing most of the 2018 season with a knee injury.

Kalil’s release likely means the Panthers will open offseason workouts with Williams at right tackle and 2017 second-round pick Taylor Moton at left tackle.

Moton opened the 2018 season at left tackle, but was moved to the right side after Williams was injured in the opener and veteran Chris Clark was signed to play the left side.

Moving on from Kalil doesn’t mean the Panthers won’t look at a left tackle with the 16th pick of the April draft even though they have a big need for an edge rusher after future Hall of Fame defensive end Julius Peppers retired.

The release means the Panthers now have enough salary cap space — estimated at $13.5 million based on calculations from ESPN’s Roster Management and free agent signings — to potentially pursue former Kansas City linebacker Justin Houston or former Detroit defensive end Ezekial Ansah.

Houston was released as the Chiefs transition from a 3-4 scheme to the 4-3. The Panthers are transitioning to a mix of 3-4 scheme with their traditional 4-3 under coach Ron Rivera.

Carolina released outside linebacker Thomas Davis prior to free agency, telling the 35-year-old Pro Bowl selection they were moving in another direction. The 30-year-old Houston could help with that transition. He has 78.5 career sacks, including nine this past season, and is a four-time Pro Bowl selection.

Ansah, 29, has 48 career sacks since the Lions selected him with the No. 5 pick of the 2013 draft. He missed nine games last season after Detroit placed the franchise tag on him, collecting four sacks in seven games.

Regardless, an edge rusher is a priority.

Carolina general manager Marty Hurney and defensive coordinator Eric Washington were at Clemson for Pro Day on Thursday. The Tigers have four defensive linemen — Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence and Austin Bryant — who could go in the first round of the draft.

Ferrell and Bryant said they have official visits set up with the Panthers. Wilkins and Lawrence said they met with team officials at the NFL Combine.

Ferrell and Bryant said their conversations with the team involved being able to play in a 3-4 and 4-3 scheme. Ferrell can play end in a 4-3 scheme and outside linebacker in a 3-4. Bryant can play end in a 4-3, end or tackle in a 3-4.

Wilkins and Lawrence also talked about position flexibility, saying they can play anywhere on the line.

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