Carolina Panthers Are Set to Embark on New Era of Football in 2014

Charles EdwardsContributor IMarch 11, 2014

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 12: Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers leads the team out of the tunnel prior to the NFC Divisional Playoff Game against the San Francisco 49ers at Bank of America Stadium on January 12, 2014 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

A new era of Carolina Panthers football is upon us.

That is the message general manager Dave Gettleman is sending to both the organization and the fanbase. The new regime in Charlotte has started simply enough. Veteran linemen Jordan Gross and Geoff Hangartner have both retired and left the game on their own terms.

On Monday, it was revealed that the Panthers were looking to trade wide receiver Steve Smith. This news sent shock waves through the fanbase as ardent supporters of the longest tenured Panther voiced their displeasure about letting the fiery veteran go.

Personally, I'm really confused on the WR Steve Smith situation. In my opinion he's the one player Panthers can't afford to lose.

— Steve Reed (@SteveReedAP) March 7, 2014

Twitter showed a level of uncertainty from both the media and Smith himself in regards to his future with the team.

When I asked Panthers WR Steve Smith what's going on with his jersey on the team's online store he text, "your guess is as good as mine."

— Josina Anderson (@JosinaAnderson) March 10, 2014

It's reasonable to understand how the fanbase feels about such a dramatic transition. The idea of change is a hard pill for most to swallow. However, change can be good.

Carolina has never enjoyed back-to-back winning seasons. The offense has its franchise quarterback in place in Cam Newton, but he needs weapons. Those weapons need to be receivers who will be able to grow with Newton and possess the ability to make plays when their number is called.

Jan 12, 2014; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith (89) celebrates a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers during the first half of the 2013 NFC divisional playoff football game at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit:
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Newton needs protection and the running backs need lanes to run through. Building a solid offensive line is crucial to the success of both.

Gettleman understands this. He was brought in to do one job: build a contender. After a slightly quiet first year in the Carolina front office, Gettleman has made a lot of noise regarding the current roster. Player retirements are inevitable, but the prospect of releasing or trading the team's best wide receiver could be considered over the top, especially when that leaves no other receivers on the roster.

It's also a bold strategy.

Despite a weak secondary in 2013, the Panthers' defensive unit was very strong. It finished second in overall defense behind Super Bowl champion Seattle last year.

This was made possible because of Gettleman's ability to make a weakness stronger. He used the team's first two draft picks on defensive tackles and neither disappointed. He drafted a linebacker in the middle rounds who played very well in the absence of Chase Blackburn. Even his rookie free-agent signings turned out to be decent, as evident in the cases of Robert Lester and Melvin White.

Feb 20, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman speaks during a press conference during the 2014 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Interestingly enough, the same thing that is happening on offense right now occurred on defense last year. Defensive leader and fan favorite Jon Beason was traded after he saw his playing time reduced. Granted, it was a mutual decision because Beason wanted to be on the field and the Panthers felt the better option was in Blackburn or A.J. Klein.

The move worked out well for Carolina.

Moving ahead in Gettleman's second year with the team, his goal will be to build a very potent offense. That means having to part with those who have been around for a long time. There is no denying Smith has something left. He can be a valuable asset in the right offense and if he is catching passes from an elite quarterback.

Defense may win championships, but Gettleman wants to field an offense that will provide them some breathing room and be able to compete with any team in a shootout. That cannot happen without changes.

For the new era to take place in Carolina, the old guard needs to be phased out. Fans may not like it and there will be plenty of new faces on the offensive side of the ball in 2014, but in the end both Gettleman and the Panthers supporters want the same thingto win.


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