CHARLOTTE — The Panthers found a new identity last season, along the same time they found a new center.
And now, they know what that identity will include for the foreseeable future.
The Panthers rewarded center Bradley Bozeman and stabilized what should be a strength of the team, agreeing to terms on a new three-year contract Monday. And when you make big moves to secure a quarterback, that’s the kind of stability you want.
The entire starting offensive line is now under contract through at least 2024, and with the way they played last year, that’s good news for any incoming quarterback in this year’s draft.
Bozeman came here on a one-year deal in free agency last year, but quickly established himself in the middle six games into the season (and a preseason ankle injury might have been the only reason it took that long).
Known by teammates as “Big Bear,” he anchored a physical front that helped stabilize the running game and the offense in general after Christian McCaffrey was traded to the 49ers, and helped them create a personality.
Over the final 12 weeks of the season, the Panthers ranked fifth in the league in rushing yards. The Panthers allowed just 17 sacks over those final 12 games, tied for the third-fewest in the league over that span.
So keeping him allowed them to continue to build around a group that provides a solid platform for any new quarterback.
Before training camp in 2021, the Panthers gave right tackle Taylor Moton a five-year deal which will keep him under contract through 2025. That spring, they used a third-round pick on left guard Brady Christensen, and his rookie deal goes through 2024.
One of their first moves in free agency last offseason was to sign right guard Austin Corbett to a three-year deal, and then they followed by using last year’s first-round pick win left tackle Ikem Ekwonu, meaning he’s locked up through the 2026 season.
The Panthers still have backup tackle Larnel Coleman (2023) and four-position backup Cade Mays (2025) under contract as well, along with Deonte Brown and Sam Tecklenburg.
Backup tackle Cameron Erving and backup guard Michael Jordan (who started 19 games combined in 2021) will be unrestricted free agents on Wednesday, and they didn’t need to play much of a role last year.
Other than Bozeman replacing Pat Elflein at center, the Panthers didn’t have to make any other switches up front. Using just two combinations of starting lineups was quite a departure after they used 13 in 17 games in 2021.
And with Corbett rehabbing a torn ACL which will put his status in doubt for the regular season opener and Christensen coming off a broken ankle (though he’ll be fine by the start of training camp), keeping Bozeman around lends some stability to the offense.