The NFL playoffs are set to get under way next week but the Carolina Panthers will not be partaking in any of the postseason festivities that fill teams with dreams and visions of grandeur. Instead, they will be staying home to re-access the 2012 season and figure out what went wrong and what can be done to correct the mistakes of the past and be a legitimate threat next year.
Every offseason begins after the Super Bowl and ends with the opening of training camp in the summer. It is during this time that Carolina will need to start putting together the pieces and constructing a winning formula to achieve the perfect offseason.
The blueprint for the perfect offseason is different for each team as no two teams are alike. Those teams who make the right moves and preparations between February and July can be primed for a playoff run regardless of how they finished the previous year. Take into account the Indianapolis Colts and Washington Redskins; both teams held the top two draft picks (though Washington did trade up) in April and are now headed to the postseason.
What will the Panthers need to do to draw up their perfect offseason blueprint? The next five slides will outline the decisions and moves needed for them to put together a perfect offseason in preparation for the perfect season...or at least reach the playoffs.
There is no doubt Marty Hurney had the best interest of the Panthers in mind during his time in Carolina. However, missing the playoffs for four consecutive years, and a lot of questionable draft picks and contract signings, forced Jerry Richardson to reevaluate his general manager and dismiss him.
Richardson wants to win now, and the Panthers have the talent to be contenders. They just need someone who can build upon the current level of talent and make moves that will not come back to haunt them like the Everette Brown deal a few years back.
Whoever the Panthers hire to fill their general manager vacancy, it has to be someone who will make moves that will benefit Carolina and not cost them draft picks or hurt them financially.
The Panthers spent the 2010 offseason gutting their roster and rebuilding from the ground up. It doesn't make sense to do it again this year. Despite the slow start, the coaching staff was able to make adjustments and find a way to finish the season with a respectable record although it was a disappointing one.
Ron Rivera and his staff have the support of the players despite earlier complaints from some of them regarding the play calling. Carolina won four in a row to end the season and they were in every game except for two all season. The coaching staff knows now what works and has a chance to learn from their mistakes.
Their biggest mistake in 2012 was not properly using their running backs. As a result, the running game suffered and it hindered the offense in the first half of the season. When changes were made it was too late. Perhaps their current knowledge will change their fortunes in 2013.
Defensively, Sean McDermott's guys have become accustomed to the playbook and the scheme. Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy each finished in double digits in sacks. The linebacker corps is the unit's strength and could move them into a position to one of the league's best next year.
Carolina has a lot of talented players currently on the roster but that doesn't mean they couldn't use some help. In fact, it would be in their best interest to court a key free agent like Dwayne Bowe to the Panthers and help make a good offense even better. This is why there is an emphasis on key players.
Bowe would add another dimension to the passing game and most likely boost the touchdown numbers for both Steve Smith and Cam Newton. The same logic could be applied to the defense where the secondary is in need of help.
The one thing going against the Panthers is the fact they are a small market team. However, with the change in atmosphere and attitude in Carolina, they are slowly becoming an attractive option for free agents. Mike Tolbert took considerably less to play for a team he feels is on the verge. While this may not be the case all the time, there is no denying the change the Carolina organization is trying to bring about in establishing themselves as contenders.
Define bust: Everette Brown
Marty Hurney excelled at this.
His moves cost draft picks that landed players such as Everette Brown and Jeff Otah. While both moves seemed great at the time, they ultimately burned the Panthers in the end.
Regardless of who is the Carolina GM, they cannot afford to be careless in dealing away picks in an effort to move up in the draft.
The same thing can be applied to trading for picks. Key players like Jon Beason and DeAngelo Williams have both been linked to trade rumors and speculation. While both would garner a good return, there has to be an absolute certainty the Panthers are getting the most out of the trade. It wouldn't reflect too well if Williams was traded and put up three or four Pro Bowl caliber seasons and the draft picks Carolina got in exchange for him didn't pan out.
The biggest task for the new GM will be hitting a home run on the first pick. Hurney was brilliant in this department and his successor will need to be just as good. If he can draft the can't miss player with the first selection and fill picks two through seven with players who will contribute instead of being released after one year, the future in Carolina will be bright.
The Panthers locker room is a cohesive unit. The team rallied around their coach and managed to finish the season on a strong note. That chemistry is important year round. Cam Newton has a good rapport with Steve Smith, Greg Olsen and Louis Murphy. Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy work well together by bringing pressure off the edges.
All of these elements are crucial for Carolina to be successful in the regular season and hopefully, the playoffs. Ryan Kalil felt so highly of his teammates that he took out a full page ad predicting a Super Bowl title at the conclusion of this season. While he was wrong in his bold prediction, it is a testament to the team's respect and confidence in one another that prompted him to take such action.
Carolina should be better and there should be no concerns about team chemistry because there are no unwelcome distractions or locker room cancers that will divide the players. Everyone on the roster is committed to winning and they will continue to live, breath and preach that philosophy for a long time to come.