The Panthers' offseason has been a disappointing one, to say the least.
Not a single new face has passed through Carolina's door for the entire free agency period thus far, but sadly, many familiar faces have walked out.
Of course, this could be the situation of many other teams if they, too, were strapped for cash and one player had a chokehold on their cap room.
It's a terrible situation, isn't it?
A team has dug themselves so deep into a hole that they can't even retain a few basic players who would certainly help them in future should things get tough.
It's sad, but it's true, and it's happening to my very own Carolina Panthers. I never thought it would get to be this disastrous, and it's all because of Julius Peppers.
To name some of the players that they lost, one would only have to look a little bit into the depth chart.
All of the quality offensive line depth is gone. The solid backups who once filled in the holes when needed during the regular season are long gone, off to be starters on another team.
Frank "the Tank" Omiyale was inked to a four-year deal with the Bears worth about $12 million. As I was reading the articles about their new signing, they mentioned his "Tank" moniker, one which I didn't even know existed while he was in Carolina.
Geoff Hangartner, who played the interior line positions, left for Buffalo on a four-year, $10 million contract, and is now the starter at center for the upcoming year.
To the casual observer, this may not seem too bad. Indeed, it may actually be a good sign, because it means that the Panthers' current line is so good, that starters on other teams were backups in Carolina.
Unfortunately, this is the totally wrong idea.
Carolina's line got banged up quite a bit this past year. Not one of the current starters played an the entire 16 games for the Panthers, although they all came pretty close.
All-Pro left tackle Jordan Gross played 15 games. Rookie right tackle Jeff Otah played just 12 games after succumbing to an injury just minutes into his first pro game. Both guards, Vincent and Wharton played 14 games apiece, and center Ryan Kalil played 12.
What does this all mean?
Well, it doesn't seem too terrible, but without quality depth to fill in for the various injuries, I don't think "Smash and Dash" (or "Double Trouble," whatever you call them) would have rushed for as many yards as they did this past year.
Carolina is stuck in an offensive line rut, with only a few inexperienced men left behind their line. I hope they can stay healthy this coming year.
And the terrible irony of it all is that if Peppers goes to the Pats, then it will be the third lineman sent to an AFC East team in the past two years (Kris Jenkins to the Jets, Hangartner to the Bills).
Beside the losses on the O-line, the Cats also lost a quality return man in Mark Jones to the Titans. He returned 39 punts for an average of 11.4 yards per return, good for seventh in the league.
He took over for Ryne Robinson, who was injured in training camp before the season started. He played a key role in helping the Panthers get great starting field position, especially for their victory at Green Bay.
Sadly, there was no money to re-sign him, not when Peppers was hogging it all.
Also, another notable Panthers player is testing the market at the moment: long snapper Jason Kyle.
He's known for being very reliable and solid in his blocking; very important if you want to give the kicker a chance to kick the ball. While it is true that he's rather old at 36, he's certainly no Trey Junkin, and could be a valuable part of the team for a few more years.
Even though it would be hard to blame Peppers' strain on the cap for the possible loss, it would be rather disappointing to see him go after so many years. If he is lost, then don't be surprised to see a few bobbled snaps.
But of all the players that the Panthers might lose to free agency, the biggest name by far is Peppers.
If Carolina loses him, then they lose one of the greatest pass rushers of this decade. Simple as that.
Personally, I think that getting rid of him would be the wisest course of action, but as each day passes, it's becoming more clear that this may not happen.
Despite all of the apparent negatives, I am happy to note that the rest of the team is doing quite well as far as contracts go. 21 of the 22 starters are locked up for at least the time being, most notably Jordan Gross and shut-down corner Chris Gamble.
So I guess it's not all bad, right?
It could get worse, but let's all hope not.
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