There isn't too much that can be said about the Carolina Panthers (1-6) that hasn't been said already after their disappointing start. In one word, their record after seven games can be summed up simply as "unexpected."
Not only has their start and inconsistent play been a source of frustration among the Carolina faithful, it has served as a basis for dramatic front office changes and locker room frustration. Bottom line, things may start to get ugly in Carolina very soon and could set the stage for how the offseason plays out.
The Panthers will be looking to find the replacement for Marty Hurney, the longtime general manager and close friend of owner Jerry Richardson, who was dismissed following a disappointing loss to the Dallas Cowboys a couple weeks ago. That move sent a strong message to the entire team about individual job security and showed that Richardson is very serious about making the necessary moves to turn his team around.
However, that's just scratching the surface.
Over the past couple games following close losses, there has been a negative vibe emerging from the locker room with the players venting their frustration over the coaching staff and its decision-making.
The most recent and direct vocal outburst came from cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, who did not keep his emotions or his opinions to himself as he basically called out the defensive game plan (via nationalfootballpost.com) following the Panthers' 23-22 loss to the Chicago Bears this past Sunday:
They did the same play at the end, I think four or five times in a row and they got the win...I just play the defense they call but you gotta switch it up. I felt like Jay Cutler, he knew what we were in. So he knew the weakness of the defense and they attacked it.
I wish it was Cover 2. We played a Cover 4 look. They kind of ran double slants on my side and forced me to squeeze No. 2 and…(Norman) can’t play that. You tell a guy to jump that and if he jumps that and Brandon Marshall does a double move, it’s a touchdown. We’ve just got to do better. Even though coach gave us that call, we’ve got to execute. We tried and we fell short.
Bleacher Report's own Knox Bardeen recently submitted an article justifying Munnerlyn's frustration and public comments about the play-calling in the final minutes of that game. While every player has a moment where they have to speak out, this episode seemed to reveal a kind of toxic atmosphere brewing in the Carolina locker room.
Not one to be quiet about his thoughts or feelings, the mercurial Steve Smith voiced his frustration and displeasure following another tough loss (via The Charlotte Observer):
"It's getting old. There is a tradition growing here and I'm not sure which way this tradition is going."
Suddenly, it seems as though things are beginning to fall apart, and we're all left wondering about the makeup of this team come April and moving into training camp next year.
There is a good possibility that a key player or two from this year's roster will not be in a Panthers uniform when the 2013 season kicks off. Trade inquiries surrounded both DeAngelo Williams and Smith over the past few days but proved to be nothing more than just rumors.
Or are they?
While Smith told The Charlotte Observer's Joe Person that he isn't going anywhere, there is a feeling that Williams may be a trade piece in the weeks leading up to the draft. He hasn't performed at the level the team or the fans have been used to seeing him play at, and his recent demotion in favor of Jonathan Stewart has only fueled the trade speculation.
It's not out of the question to suggest that the new Carolina GM will aggressively shop Williams because the Panthers would love to add some draft picks, especially in the early rounds. The biggest hurdle will be finding a team willing to pay Williams' huge $43 million contract.
There is some speculation about the future of Jon Beason's career in Carolina following a second season-ending injury and the success rookie Luke Kuechly has experienced at middle linebacker. It's still too early to tell, but it's definitely something to keep an eye on as the offseason unfolds.
It seems as though every piece of news coming out of Carolina is bad—whether it's regarding the outcome of a game or a player's actions during a game or postgame interview. The Panthers are being placed under a microscope for all the wrong reasons.
This was a team that was suppose to succeed in 2012 and yet, on the cusp of the halfway point they are conference cellar dwellers. Something drastic will need to take place if this team is to start moving in the right direction.
What changes do you expect Carolina to make this offseason?
Whether it's roster changes, coaching changes or front office changes, this team has to put together a product that the fans of Carolina want to come out to see and support. Nobody wants to root for a team that is in disarray and on the verge of collapse, though the Panthers may already be there.
The proverbial hill head coach Ron Rivera had to climb to get his team to prominence has suddenly become a mountain, and the task he was hired on to complete has become seemingly insurmountable with every loss Carolina suffers.
The Panthers need to come together as a team and discover a winning formula soon, or they will turn into the definition of mediocrity and disappointment.