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Panthers make a $55 million bet that Matt Kalil can be a better LT than he was with the Vikings

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Sure, that’s technically offensive line help.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings-Training Camp Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

The Panthers recently suffered a lost season in which it seemed every pass rusher in the league got a chance to smash Cam Newton into the turf. Carolina made its first effort to fix its offensive line problems Thursday when the franchise signed offensive tackle Matt Kalil to a massive contract.

That’s a huge amount of money for a player who missed all but two games in the 2016 season due to a hip injury. The former No. 4 overall pick of the 2012 NFL draft struggled in the years leading up to last year’s abbreviated campaign. While he was named to the Pro Bowl as a rookie, he has yet to fulfill the promise of his dynamite NFL premiere.

Kalil struggled with knee injuries that sapped his explosiveness and turned him from one of the league’s top quarterback protectors into a below-average blocker. After allowing just six sacks in his first two seasons in the league, that number jumped to 12 in 2014. While 2015 was a minor bounce-back year for him, he still didn’t look like the kind of player who could command more than $11 million annually once he hit the free agent market.

Enter the Panthers, a team desperate to keep Newton upright, healthy, and happy. Carolina devolved from Super Bowl participant to 6-10 dumpster fire thanks in part to an offensive line that allowed its elusive quarterback to get sacked on more than six percent of his dropbacks last fall. What’s even worse: that number was an improvement on its 2015 rate.

Kalil will join his brother Ryan on the Carolina offensive line. The longtime Panther was vocal about teaming up with his sibling on Twitter in the lead up to free agency.

The Panthers are betting a long season of rehabilitation will be the key for the 27-year-old tackle to regain the form that made him one of the league’s top prospects five years ago. Kalil has the talent and athleticism to live up to his contract, but the player who struggled through the final three years of his rookie deal certainly wasn’t worth $11 million annually. Carolina is betting big on Kalil’s revival, but his recent history suggests it may be a sucker’s bet.