The Carolina Panthers offseason just became a lot more complicated. Following the release of veteran wide receiver and fan favorite Steve Smith, the Carolina front office now has the daunting task of building a competitive offense for 2014. To get a better understanding of how much work needs to be done, the current roster looks to return only six starters from last year's offense.
Those players are Cam Newton, DeAngelo Williams, Mike Tolbert, Greg Olsen, Ryan Kalil and Byron Bell.
That leaves Dave Gettleman and his staff with five positions to fill using either free agency or the draft. Free agency looks to be running low on options as offensive tackle Anthony Collins opted to sign with division rival Tampa Bay and wide receiver Hakeem Nicks has not committed to the Panthers and is set to travel to Indianapolis for a meeting with the Colts.
So Hakeem Nicks' dad reportedly says son going to be #Panthers, then Nicks says he's flying to Indy. Different time zones.— David Newton (@DNewtonespn) March 13, 2014
According to Rotoworld, Nicks is the top receiver left on the market. To miss out on him would put Carolina in a very precarious position as the guys behind him are Julian Edelman, Santonio Holmes, James Jones, Emmanuel Sanders and Sidney Rice. Of those names, Jones could be a viable option as he has been consistent as a wide receiver while in Green Bay. Since he turns 30 later this month, he is the ideal receiver to help mentor young rookies while providing Newton a reliable veteran target on the field.
One thing going for Gettleman is the fact that any receiver they sign would figure to be the top guy at the position. That's not a bad hook to have in the sales pitch.
However, finding an adequate receiver is just scratching the surface.
Carolina still has to shore up its offensive line. Kalil and Bell are the only two players left who started last year and the Panthers will need to build a line capable of protecting their quarterback. This is imperative at left tackle as Jordan Gross has retired.
It makes sense that finding a suitable veteran to help anchor the line is one of the team's priorities. Whether it is at guard or tackle, the need for a veteran presence serves as an important part of the development process. Kalil is a worthy mentor and being the team's center, it's fitting.
There are still some good offensive linemen available in Donald Penn, Michael Oher and Zach Strief. Given the lack of room to maneuver financially (and that a receiver is desperately needed), Carolina may not be able to offer the kind of money these free agents are expecting.
As for the guards, there is still Panthers free agent Travelle Wharton, who could return, but had mulled retirement. Of course, Carolina could stick to the offensive guards still on the roster with Amini Silatolu and Edmund Kugbila returning from injuries. Nate Chandler is an option as well, assuming he isn't moved back to defensive tackle.
The Panthers need to find some way to fill a couple of these pressing needs on offense, as failing to do so will only complicate matters when the draft arrives. Before free agency, there was much debate about which position was the bigger priority—offensive tackle or wide receiver?
If the draft started today, Carolina would be a wreck.
The question about which position is the bigger priority goes from being a simple topic of debate to Carolina's question of the year.
The team needs to protect its franchise quarterback, but at the same time, it needs to give him weapons. The remaining receivers on the roster look like a who's who of the scout team. Gettleman has been getting a lot of grief over his moves this offseason and he may have bitten off more than he can chew following recent events.
This much is clear: The Panthers want to field a young team that is competitive and can grow together. Being strapped for cash and releasing the franchise's best player may not be the best way of reaching their desired goals, but if Gettleman's free-agent signings and draft picks turn out well, the sting of this offseason won't hurt as much.
The many needs of the Panthers are raising a lot of questions from the motivation behind team moves to the strategy the team will employ headed into the draft. Carolina is in rebuilding mode for certain, but its focus is the offense. Fortunately, the defense should be a top unit once again in 2014 and keep them in games.
I know Panthers fans are in a panic, but obviously Dave Gettleman has a plan. We just don't know what it is. Let's see how it plays out.— Steve Reed (@SteveReedAP) March 12, 2014
For the time being, it's understandable that Carolina fans will scrutinize the decisions of the front office. Of course, that was the case last year, and the signings and draft picks turned out fine. How things will unfold in 2014 is still up in the air, but for now, everything is one huge guessing game.
Stats and player information provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com. NFL free-agent list courtesy of Rotoworld.com.
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