Amini Silatolu isn’t a Pro Bowl-caliber offensive lineman, but his injury puts the Panthers in a very difficult spot to start the 2018 season.
Cam Newton gets a lot of the headlines for the Carolina Panthers offense, but the unit’s success is predicated on running the football. That’s going to be pretty difficult for the Panthers to do if they keep losing starters along the offensive line.
Amini Silatolu is the latest lineman to sustain a significant injury during the team’s preseason work. His torn left meniscus isn’t likely to sideline him for the entire 2018 campaign, but it will almost certainly cost him multiple games. Panthers officials aren’t putting a timeline on his expected recovery. Instead, they plan to evaluate his progress on a weekly basis.
Of course, Silatolu is the second Panthers lineman to go down with a knee injury this preseason. Previously, Pro Bowl right tackle Daryl Williams suffered a torn MCL and dislocated patella. The team isn’t sure how many games he will miss, but it’ll be a significant chunk of the season.
Unfortunately for Ron Rivera and the rest of the team’s coaching staff, offensive line isn’t a deep position on the roster. 2017 second-round pick Taylor Moton is a reasonable option to take over for Williams at right tackle, but the chances of him turning in a Pro Bowl campaign this year are pretty low. In truth, Carolina would be pleased if Moton blossoms into a quality NFL starter this season.
The situation that Silatolu’s injury leaves at left guard is even more concerning. The immediate plan to replace him will be to place an undrafted rookie in his place. Brandon Mahon may ultimately become a quality option for the team at guard, but that’s a massive ask for any rookie. It’s especially difficult to expect that type of contribution from a player wasn’t even deemed worthy of a draft selection.
Then again, the Panthers have hit it big with an undrafted free agent before. The team signed Andrew Norwell in 2014 as an undrafted free agent and he developed into an All-Pro guard. Ultimately, Norwell became so valuable that Carolina had to let him leave for Jacksonville this summer due to his massive salary demands.
Depending on just how long the team truly believes Silatolu will be out, it might make sense for the Panthers to try to make a trade to solidify the line. That isn’t an easy thing to do at this point in the season, but swapping a future draft pick for a borderline starter wouldn’t be a bad idea.
The other option for Carolina will be to wait and see who comes available when final cuts are made. It’s very possible a potential upgrade over Mahon will be set free by a team that has more options at guard. If that happens, expect the Panthers to be in the front of the line to sign him via free agency.
The Panthers still have a long way to go in their preseason campaign, but they’ve already suffered two significant injuries at their thinnest position. The team can ill afford to receive any more bad news in regards to their offensive line.