Carolina Panthers Moving Ahead Whether Fans Approve Or Not

Will BryanCorrespondent IMarch 25, 2009

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 10:  DeAngelo Williams #34 of the Carolina Panthers look on from the bench in the fourth quarter of the game against the Arizona Cardinals during the NFC Divisional Playoff Game on January 10, 2009 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina.  The Arizona Cardinals defeated the Carolina Panthers with a score of 33-13. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

It is a well-accepted fact that professional sports teams operate pretty independently from the whims of their fans. Even while fans believe that their widespread complaints about a franchise's decision-making can ultimately have an effect, they really know that no one with power actually cares.

At least I hope they do.

Frankly, the decision-makers of the Carolina Panthers could care less what their fans think they should do.

I think this is a good thing.

Beginning with the Monday morning after Carolina's meltdown against Arizona, local talk show hosts fielded angry fan after angry fan complaining that their ire for Jake Delhomme was justified, and the Panthers should fire him post-haste.

After John Fox was quoted as saying that the team "picked a bad day to have a bad day," fans started calling for his head once again (even though they were trumpeting him as Coach of the Year just 48 hours earlier).

When Julius Peppers declared through his agent that he wanted to move on from the Panthers' 4-3 scheme, fans vilified the man that had given them more spectacular feats of human physical achievement than they could have ever deserved.

What actually happened on that fateful Saturday night in January will linger just as long, if not longer, with all of the players and coaches involved, as it will with the fans.

Those coaches will re-evaluate the Panthers' soft zone and the decision not to man up Larry Fitzgerald. They will look at the first and second down plays in the first half where Carolina went play action instead of run. They will break down the timing of Jake Delhomme and the attack moves of Julius Peppers, and they will see so much more than any fan can hope to understand.

What the Panthers have done so far in the offseason is much like a delayed draw.

They have let Peppers say his peace, they have let the defensive coaches move on to better jobs and they have allowed the aging dead weight of guys like D.J. Hackett, Jeremy Bridges and Ken Lucas to move on.

Now, just like DeAngelo Williams waiting at the line for a hole to open after a defender attacks, the Panthers have gone on the offensive.

John Fox has spoken out in support of Julius Peppers, allowing him to continue his process of trying to be traded, while assuring fans that he will be back and not be a cancer to the locker room.

About this, John Fox is right. He usually is, except when he's not.

Peppers will probably be returning, and despite his hold on the Panthers' cap space, he will continue to cause match-up problems. He will continue to be a rather neutral figure in the locker room, allowing Jon Beason and Chris Harris to do their thing.

The Panthers also started negotiating a contract extension with Jake Delhomme. The same Jake Delhomme that threw a combined 12 interceptions in games against Tampa Bay, Oakland and Arizona.

The same Jake Delhomme at whom fans spewed vitriolic anger.

The Panthers, however, are rewarding the Jake Delhomme that led the team to its third playoff berth in six years. The same Delhomme that connected for over 3,200 yards, and led five different second-half comebacks, in the team's 12 wins.

Panther fans are upset that Carolina didn't make a splash in free agency, and don't have a first-round draft pick.

Realistically, the Panthers already made their mark. They signed three Pro Bowl-caliber players in Chris Gamble, Jordan Gross and Julius Peppers. They drafted an ox of a lineman in Jeff Otah to anchor the opposite side of the offensive line. They also brought in a new defensive coordinator with fresh ideas.

The Panthers have done plenty already.

They are just letting the blocks set up, sitting behind the line and waiting for the defense to commit. They will bust through the line into open space and the fans will finally cheer once again.

At least until they don't.