Panthers news / analysis: Brian Burns not at OTAs; veteran QB still an option?

No one is calling it a holdout and the Panthers don’t seem to be overly concerned. But when a star player entering his fourth year misses OTAs, it’s a situation that at least bears watching.

Defensive end Brian Burns, coming off his first Pro Bowl season, has been working out on his own in Florida in recent weeks after attending the start of the voluntary OTAs, according to sources with knowledge of the situation. Burns has been in communication with the team and is expected to be back for mandatory minicamp in June.

The Panthers recently picked up Burns’ fifth-year option for 2023, worth a guaranteed $ 16 million, according to Over the Cap’s projection. General manager Scott Fitterer twice this offseason has mentioned wanting to get a long-term extension done with Burns, the former Florida State standout who was the 16th overall pick in the 2019 draft.

“Brian would be one of those moving forward priorities,” Fitterer said in March. “He’s a guy that’s come out and produced for us. I really like the leader he’s becoming, and the man that he is. ”

Wide receiver Robbie Anderson missed OTAs last year, showed up for minicamp and training camp and signed a two-year, $ 29.5 million extension in August.

For an organization that wants to draft and develop its own players, the Panthers absolutely cannot let Burns get away in free agency. The Fort Lauderdale native just turned 24 in April and has been on an upward trajectory since arriving in the NFL.

Burns has posted back-to-back, nine-sack seasons to give him 25 1/2 for his career, the second-most for a Panthers player in his first three seasons behind only Julius Peppers’ 30. Burns has the most sacks among all players who entered the league in 2019, and his 26 tackles for loss are tied for fourth among those players.

The Panthers understand Burns’ impact, which takes on greater importance this year after edge rusher Haason Reddick signed a three-year, $ 45 million deal with Philadelphia after one season in Charlotte. And there’s little doubt Fitterer wants to get a deal done. The question is when.

The Panthers made 2017 first-round pick Christian McCaffrey the highest-paid running back in NFL history by locking him up in the spring of 2020, before the start of his fourth season. Marty Hurney was still the GM when McCaffrey was extended, which came during a changing-of-the-guard stage in franchise history following Luke Kuechly’s retirement and the release of both Cam Newton and Greg Olsen.

After Fitterer replaced Hurney last year, the Panthers picked up the fifth-year option for wideout DJ Moore, the team’s first-round pick in 2018. The Panthers waited until after Moore’s fourth season – in which he topped 1,100 receiving yards for the third consecutive year – before rewarding him with a three-year, $ 61.9 million extension.

The Panthers could take the same approach with Burns and target an extension for next offseason. But they risk seeing Burns’ price go up if he finishes 2022 with 12 sacks and goes to another Pro Bowl.

As for a few other topics…

Could the Panthers still be players for a veteran quarterback?

They could. Trading up to take Matt Corral in the third round won’t keep Fitterer from continuing to monitor the situations in Cleveland and San Francisco with Baker Mayfield and Jimmy Garoppolo. Trade talks with Cleveland during the second night of the draft broke down when the Browns wouldn’t take on enough of Mayfield’s $ 18.8 million salary, per sources. But if Cleveland agrees to eat more of Mayfield’s money or if it cuts him, expect the Panthers to re-engage.

The situation with Garoppolo is similar to Mayfield’s in terms of the Panthers not wanting him at his current salary ($ 25 million). Complicating a potential Garoppolo deal different are the unknowns related to his surgically repaired shoulder and when he’ll be able to throw at full strength.

In the meantime, the Panthers can get their first look at Corral at this week’s rookie minicamp and see how Sam Darnold does behind a vastly improved offensive line during OTAs. Unless there’s an injury to a quarterback somewhere, Fitterer still has leverage – particularly with Cleveland, given the bad blood that developed between Mayfield and the Browns when they traded for Deshaun Watson. Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com reported that Jacoby Brissett – not Mayfield – would be the choice to start if Watson is suspended.

The Panthers began the offseason wanting to upgrade at offensive line and quarterback. They’ve accomplished the former and might not be done with the latter.

Extra points

• The Panthers are interested in adding an edge rusher, but aren’t in any rush to do so. Fitterer has experience with Jadeveon Clowney from their time together in Seattle, and Clowney’s Rock Hill, SC, roots could make the Panthers an attractive option (like Stephon Gilmore, who went to the same high school as Clowney). The 29-year-old Clowney likely isn’t in any hurry, either, given he can sign with a team before training camp and not have to bother with OTAs. Several other free-agent pass rushers remain available, including Trey Flowers, Justin Houston and Melvin Ingram. Having brought back Frankie Luvu and Marquis Haynes, the Panthers also could wait to see if any edge rushers become cost-cutting casualties this summer.

• Coming off consecutive, five-win seasons, don’t look for the Panthers to get much in the way of prime-time matchups when the NFL releases full schedules Thursday night. The Panthers had one prime-time game last year (at Houston in Week 3) and just two in Matt Rhule’s first season (vs. Atlanta, at Green Bay). Some prime-time possibilities this year? The defending Super Bowl-champion Rams, the Joe Burrow-led Bengals or either of the Tom-pa Bay matchups, I guess. But look for a lot of 1 pm ET kickoffs, which is not a bad thing for those writing on deadline.

• The Panthers have a pair of cross-country trips to Los Angeles and Seattle. If the NFL schedules them back-to-back, the Panthers would probably spend that week on the West Coast. That plan didn’t go great for Ron Rivera in 2016, when the Panthers lost at Oakland and Seattle while practicing at San Jose State after the Raiders’ game. Newton was infamously benched for the start of the Sunday night game against the Seahawks for not bringing a tie on the trip.

(Photo of Brian Burns: John Byrum / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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