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Carolina Panthers give Taylor Moton 2021 franchise tag

Carolina Panthers give Taylor Moton 2021 franchise tag
Dec 1, 2019; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers offensive tackle Taylor Moton (72) runs on to the field before the game at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Panthers’ recent salary cap maneuvers paid off, as they freed up enough room to retain right tackle Taylor Moton on the franchise tag for the 2021 season.

Moton was among the multiple Panthers starters in the offensive trenches slated to hit free agency, but Carolina got ahead of that in his case and rewarded him with the lucrative tag.

Panthers secure right tackle Taylor Moton on franchise tag

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported the big news on Moton, adding the financial implications of the 26-year-old remaining in Charlotte:

This was a widely expected outcome, because Carolina is in the midst of figuring out its quarterback situation and doing everything possible to free up cap space to take on a potentially big contract of someone like Deshaun Watson if a blockbuster trade can be agreed upon.

But in order to ultimately convince someone like Watson or Russell Wilson to waive a no-trade clause, there should be assurances in place that the team is equipped to build around a superstar QB, as opposed to leaving the cupboard bare just to get him.

What Taylor Moton franchise tag means for Panthers

Taylor Moton
Nov 3, 2019; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers offensive tackle Taylor Moton (72) before the game at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Moton is a big first step in the Panthers’ bid to trade for either Watson or Wilson. Both have suffered from underwhelming offensive line play in Houston and Seattle respectively. Now, it’s about figuring out how best to upgrade a unit that ranked 18th in Pro Football Focus’ rankings last season.

Carolina initially drafted Moton in 2017, and the second-round pick has been a steadily ascending player who had his best year last season, placing 13th in PFF’s grades among all offensive tackles. That type of protection is well worth the one-year expense the franchise tag costs.

Even when the Panthers went 5-11 this past season, Moton’s effort didn’t relent whatsoever, as the team’s official Twitter account underscored:

Other key free agents Carolina should try to retain are left tackle Russell Okung and any other offensive linemen who can be had at a bargain.

They have four interior linemen who are no longer under contract, but Okung is the top priority. He’ll likely command an annual salary around what Moton is making or perhaps a little less. Okung would help out a lot if he takes a backloaded, two-year deal that’d keep him with the team through his age-34 season.

Continuity is invaluable on NFL offensive lines, and anyone who can return to be in coordinator Joe Brady’s system for a second year in a row will be invaluable to protect whoever takes Teddy Bridgewater‘s place under center in 2021.

Having a superior field general to Bridgewater with most of last year’s team intact may even be enough for the Panthers to challenge for a playoff berth this season. With the exception of Week 17’s blowout loss to the New Orleans Saints, Carolina’s only two losses that were decided by more than one possession were to the Super Bowl LV champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

It’s a fine line between success and failure in the NFL, and having the right quarterback often has a lot to do with it. Bridgewater went 4-11 as a starter in 2020, and it stands to reason someone with a superior skill set could fare much better — even a high-upside rookie from the upcoming NFL Draft. The Panthers pick eighth overall and could land one of the top QB prospects.

Read More: NFL Draft 2021 rumors: Mac Jones won’t fall past Carolina Panthers

In any event, Moton is a big piece to the puzzle on Carolina’s offense, and it’s likely he’ll be able to successfully negotiate a long-term contract next offseason when the Panthers’ cap situation is inevitably better with the league limit going up — and with their QB situation much clearer.