Anytime you fail to go .500, your team has multiple holes that need to be addressed. That holds true for the Carolina Panthers but their biggest need is at safety.
Some of you are nodding your head in agreement already. This article isn't particularly for you. It's for the guy who points out that Carolina had a top-10 defense in terms of total defense. Let me begin by pointing out that the Panthers also gave up 22.7 points per game, which checks in at 18th best.
And understand that emphasizing the Panthers' need for safety doesn't mean that adding a safety will fix everything. It won't.
But it's a great start.
For the first point, let's take a look around the league at those teams that have enjoyed sustained success. There is a definite correlation between having a stalwart safety and putting together a winning franchise.
I could write it all out, but let's turn to the numbers. It's easier.
|Team||Wins||Losses||Playoff Appearances||Super Bowl Wins|
This table begins with the 2003 season when Troy Polamalu joined the Pittsburgh Steelers (Ed Reed was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in 2002). I'm not sure you need me to add much analysis here. It's evident that having someone in the back who can not only make plays, but cover up mistakes made by others goes a long way towards success.
Additionally, the Panthers spent last year's first-round pick on Luke Kuechly which significantly upgraded the middle of the defense. Adding another playmaker to the center of the defense will only augment those outside playmakers' effect. Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson had 39 sacks last year.
Let's keep this as basic as possible: the Panthers secondary is terrible. The player with the best grade that played over 200 snaps was Captain Munnerlyn (according ProFootballFocus.com, subscription required). He logged a 0.3, when 0.0 is average.
To boil this down, only one regular player in the Panthers secondary ranked above average. And it isn't like his grade was miles above the norm.
What is Carolina's biggest issue?
The safeties? That's an even uglier picture. Free safety Haruki Nakamura graded out at a semi-respectable -0.3 while strong safety Charles Godfrey checked in with a horrendous -8.9.
Additionally, the corners weren't much better as starters Josh Norman and Josh Thomas combined for -8.6.
Since Norman is only entering his second year, it's reasonable to assume he will improve but not significantly. As mentioned above, adding someone with talent to the back end will only help to cover up the young guy's mistakes. Plus, someone who can bark out signals and get everyone in line will put each player in a better position to excel.
Forget The Other Holes
Carolina could use a little bolstering in the middle of the defensive line. However, that isn't the top need. Those 39 sacks prove the defensive line is making an impact with its outside guys. Thus, the front unit as a whole is doing well enough to keep the Panthers in contention.
And yes, the Panthers could use somebody to help out Jordan Gross. If you exclude his Pro Football Focus grade, the rest of the offensive line earned a -42.8 combined. That's obviously pathetic.
But the best way to protect Cam Newton? Slow down the game for him. Don't force him to press and be the savior all the time. Is he capable? Yes, he has the skills. But that kind of pressure can be difficult for a young guy to overcome.
Like every NFL franchise, the Panthers will measure their offseason success by wins on the field. Take the above into consideration and tell me that a talented safety wouldn't be the best way for Carolina to notch a few more victories.