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Ron Rivera: Panthers have 'got to protect' Cam Newton

Ron Rivera knows the Carolina Panthers must evolve or go extinct. The coach is also putting a premium on protecting the quarterback this season.

Rivera said the Panthers plan to focus on bolstering the offensive line this offseason to protect Cam Newton, who is coming off shoulder surgery.

"When I first got here our philosophy was, you've got to protect your quarterback, and you got to put playmakers around him," Rivera said Friday on ESPN's First Take. "And we've tried to do that through the draft and through free agency, and we understand that. We know we've got to continue to protect our quarterback, so going into free agency we will look at offensive linemen. Going into the draft, we will look at offensive linemen."

The Panthers have a bevy of offensive line questions to fill this offseason. Center Ryan Kalil is set to retire, right tackle Daryl Williams, who played just one game in 2018, is a free agent, high-priced left tackle Matt Kalil didn't play a down in 2018 and has been plagued by injuries, and stand-in tackle Chris Clark is a free agent. Outside of guard Trai Turner, who earned a fourth Pro Bowl, and tackle Taylor Moton, the Panthers offensive line is a morass of question marks heading into the offseason.

The lack of reliable offensive line options on the open market will make the task of upgrading the blocking unit tricky.

Rivera also noted that buffering the offensive line isn't the only need for Carolina heading into the spring. With receiver Devin Funchess hitting free agency, the Panthers will look to add another pass-catcher or two.

"But also we'll look at playmakers," Rivera added. "We'll look at guys that when the ball gets in their hands, they take the pressure off the quarterback. Whether it be a runner, a receiver, a tight end, somebody like this. ... I've sat down with our general manager, Marty Hurney, and we've mapped out a plan both offensively, defensively, and we'll look at special teams, where we need help. And again, we're going forward knowing that we've got to do things to make our team better, and first and foremost is we've got to protect the quarterback and put playmakers around him."

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