As the Carolina Panthers enter their first OTAs (Official Team Activities) since 2012 and coach Ron Rivera's first full offseason with the team—remember the 136-day NFL lockout of 2011?—they do so with a team that has improved in some areas and maintained the status quo in others, thanks to a handful of curious offseason front-office decisions.
The Panthers focused on a bevy of long- and short-term needs in the 2012 NFL Draft, and a pre-draft series of free-agent moves and trades focused on deepening the Panthers offense and improving their abysmal special teams.
Have the Carolina Panthers Arrived?
In the first half of a two-part Q&A with the Charlotte Observer's Joe Person, Coach Rivera says that he is optimistic about the Panthers prospects but he does not feel that they have "arrived" just yet.
Whether the Panthers have arrived is both relative and subjective at this point and depends upon one's definition of arrival—i.e., playing competitively vs. winning a set number of games or reaching the playoffs vs. winning the Super Bowl.
No matter, the final verdict will be determined on the field this season and in the seasons to come, but as long as the Panthers reflect Coach Rivera's blue-collar work ethic and constant emphasis on growth and improvement, they will have a legitimate shot at winning their division and making a run in the playoffs.
So You're Saying There's a Chance
Just as the Carolina Panthers were 6-10 last season, the San Francisco 49ers (13-3, NFC West champs in 2011) and Detroit Lions (10-6, NFC North wild card in 2011) each won six games in 2010 before making giant strides in 2011.
And speaking of giant strides, the New York Giants barely made the 2012 NFL Playoffs after finishing last season with a 9-7 record before going on an epic Super Bowl-winning run by defeating the Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers, the 49ers and New England Patriots.
Little wonder Rivera cannot help but feel optimistic about his team's chances so long as they keep the motivational carrot in sight at all times.
Here is a look at a handful of offseason front-office moves that could either help or hinder the Panthers development into a contender in 2012.