Reassessing Carolina's Offseason Plan and Breaking Down What's Left to Address
When the Carolina Panthers' offseason began, what needed to be done between January and August was very clear-cut and simple. Those tasks were to find a way to retain Greg Hardy with little cap room to work with, attempt to re-sign a few key players from last year and sign contributing players in the market at an affordable price.
Alas, it was not as simple as it appeared to be.
Carolina saw every single wide receiver who caught a pass last season leave the team—the tip of the iceberg being the controversial release of veteran receiver Steve Smith. The frustration of the fanbase was showing more everyday, as it seemed as though Dave Gettleman and his staff were taking a very lethargic approach to the free-agency period.
Throw in a couple of minor, under-the-radar signings and player retirements, and this team has had an interesting offseason—but for completely surprising reasons.
With the draft taking place next month, there is still work to do be done. The Panthers aren't quite finished with evaluating the current free-agent pool and could make another signing or two in the next few weeks. Here are a few things that have been done at this stage of the NFL offseason and what is left to be done.
Free Agency: Players Lost
- Steve Smith, WR (Baltimore)
- Ted Ginn Jr., WR (Arizona)
- Brandon LaFell, WR (New England)
- Domenik Hixon, WR (Chicago)
- Captain Munnerlyn, CB (Minnesota)
- Mike Mitchell, S (Pittsburgh)
- Jordan Senn, LB (Chicago)
- Jordan Gross, LT (Retired)
The ratio of departing key players to that of incoming key players in Carolina is bad enough to warrant a collective facepalm among the Panthers fanbase. Granted, it was expected that the team would lose some familiar faces and a couple of playmakers from the team, but the fact that the ones lost were a mainstay fixture on offense, defense or special teams was a bit unnerving for many to accept.
As noted in the introduction slide, the release of Steve Smith sent shock waves through the region and perhaps the nation as well. It was the last thing anyone expected from Carolina's offseason. Whether it was the right move or not will probably be a subject of debate until the end of time; however, the fact remains is there are no legitimate No. 1 receivers on the team.
The defense is more or less intact, but the concerns about the secondary are still there. A couple of moves have been made to shore up the team's needs at the safety and cornerback positions, but it's likely the draft will introduce the Panthers' next long-term player or players within the unit.
Free Agency: Players Gained
- Jerricho Cotchery, WR
- Roman Harper, S
- Tiquan Underwood, WR
- Antoine Cason, CB
- Joe Webb, QB/WR
Carolina was able to retain the services of kicker Graham Gano, defensive back James Dockery, offensive lineman Garry Williams and backup quarterback Derek Anderson. The Panthers even went as far as to place the franchise tag on Greg Hardy, committing over $13 million to him for one season.
Still, the number of players the team was able to re-sign and those who were brought in could warrant the Panthers the maximum number of compensatory picks in next year's draft. The players who were signed either lack star power or are past their prime, but the hope is they can do enough to keep Carolina competitive again in 2014.
Cotchery is a nice addition, but he is no Steve Smith. He has never been considered anything more than a second or third receiver in his career.
Harper is a former Pro Bowl safety but is in the twilight of his career.
Underwood has a lot of upside and could develop into a decent receiver.
Cason played on a part-time basis with Arizona last year and will have to battle the other defensive backs on the roster for a spot.
Webb has been regarded as a both a quarterback and receiver as a professional, but it seems as though the Panthers want him to serve as a quarterback.
Former Atlanta Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud will visit the Panthers on Monday, according to NFL.com's Ian Rapoport (h/t Around the League's Kevin Patra), and it's possible he joins the team in the near future. The front office will continue to monitor and evaluate players on the market. The team appears ready to slow down in that area and focus primarily on the draft.
Positions That Still Need to Be Addressed
Despite the efforts of the front office, the Carolina Panthers still lack suitable options at offensive tackle and wide receiver. Speculation suggests both positions will be addressed and filled within the first three or four rounds of the draft.
The only question left to ask: Which position is most important in the opening round?
Carolina could let it come down to the best player available, and if that is the case, it could allow a cornerback to sneak his way onto the team as the Panthers' first pick. Of course, this would not go over very well with the fanbase, but then again, the entire offseason hasn't gone over well with it to this point.
The only thing left fans can do is place their trust in Dave Gettleman and Ron Rivera's judgment, as they will build the team they feel will help propel Carolina to the next level. If successful, the Panthers will have a competitive team for the next several years and can focus on building for depth versus picking up future starters at multiple positions in a single season.
Positions That Are Good to Go
It is unlikely the Panthers will worry about adding another running back, tight end, quarterback, linebacker or defensive lineman via free agency or the draft this year. Two positions could see players added in tight end and quarterback, but for the most part, both are solid with starters and backups.
However, Carolina could opt to employ a two-tight end set similar to what New England did a couple of years ago. This could happen if a tight end is the best player available in the first round of the draft or in the later rounds after the team has filled its primary needs.
An additional quarterback would seem out of the question too. It's doubtful the Panthers would spend a late draft pick on a position that has a starter (Cam Newton) and three backups (Derek Anderson, Joe Webb and Matt Blanchard).
But it's possible the team signs Logan Thomas or Tajh Boyd if either go undrafted. Both feature a similar skill set to Newton, and the Panthers might want to have a backup capable of utilizing the same playbook if something were to happen to Newton.
For the most part, none of these positions warrants a major need for Carolina, and if a player is brought on that plays one of the positions, it will most likely be an undrafted free agent.
The Panthers' offseason can be summed up in a word—bad. That is according to ESPN.com's David Newton. The team looks considerably weaker than it did a year ago, and the glaring needs at wide receiver and offensive tackle are not helping ease the mindset of the team's fans.
There is hope the draft will cover all the needs and set the table for an extended run at success that has been lacking in the Carolinas since the team's inception. A solid draft class that features a lot of contributors will go a long way in allowing the fans and media to overlook Dave Gettleman's strategy of the 2014 offseason. It would even prevent detractors from doubting his motives again.
However, if the draft class is defined by busts and incompetent players, Gettleman will never hear the end of it, and it could ruin any future for him as a general manager of another team. To say a lot is riding on this year's class is an understatement.
A new era is emerging in Charlotte, N.C.
This one will see Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly as the veteran leadership of the team. Fortunately, both will have the wisdom and experience of Thomas Davis to lean on as they begin to take the reins of the Panthers and lead their teammates into the future.