For the Carolina Panthers to maintain their status as Super Bowl contenders, they must hold on to the championship-caliber players that are slated to hit free agency this spring.

On Tuesday, the Panthers announced that they have re-signed their first player who was slated to hit free agency, as defensive end Wes Horton agreed to return on a one-year deal.

Via Aaron Wilson of the National Football Post:

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Panthers announce defensive end Wes Horton has signed one-year deal

— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) February 16, 2016

Horton was a full-time starter on the edge in 2014, but the Panthers reduced his role to rotational pass-rusher in 2015. The former undrafted free agent served a four-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs and recorded only one sack during the Super Bowl season, so he's far from an integral cog in the machine.

The signing of Horton, however, is the start of an active offseason that should center around Carolina's negotiations with star cornerback Josh Norman.

Follow Kevin Boilard on Twitter: @KevinBoilard