The Carolina Panthers are coming off a 2008-09 campaign in which they averaged just over 26 ppg for the season and 32.6 ppg over their last seven games. They return every starter on offense in 2009 including the entire offensive line, which is regarded as one of the best in the NFL by many experts.
As staggering as those numbers are, a lot of Panther fans and NFL writers still question their offense entering the 2009 season…including myself…after the team restructured the contract of QB Jake Delhomme, a contract which will in all likelihood guarantee Delhomme his chance to finish his playing career as a Panther.
Since the 2003 season Jake Delhomme has been a fixture as the starting QB of Carolina. In 2003…just two years after a 1-15 season…Delhomme and the Panthers made a historic run into the postseason, and through the playoffs losing Super Bowl 38 to New England on a last minute 41-yard FG by Adam Vinatieri.
Those of us who remember the 2003 season remember how Delhomme worked his way into the No. 2 QB spot on Carolina’s depth chart after a remarkable 2003 preseason. Although his on-field play was impressive to the Carolina coaching staff, Rodney Peete was still awarded the starting job opening the 2003 regular season.
Peete’s stranglehold on the starting QB position lasted exactly a half, as Carolina went into the locker room at halftime during Week One of the season losing to the Jacksonville Jaguars 17-0 in Charlotte. Delhomme was given his chance to replace Peete and never looked back, leading Carolina to a comeback win against the Jaguars.
In 2007, Delhomme suffered ligament damage in his elbow in a game against Atlanta and was lost for the season. Going into that game Delhomme was among league leaders in passer rating, throwing eight TD’s to only one interception.
During Jake’s absence the Panthers season spiraled out of control as Carolina went through three other starting QB’s and never were able to mount any threat of a playoff run. Following the season, Delhomme opted for Tommy John’s surgery to his right elbow, and vowed for a comeback in 2008.
But is was clear to many, including myself, during the 2008 season that Jake Delhomme, once again was one of the best deep ball passers in the NFL, despite losing some arm strength after the surgery. Balls hung in the air longer, allowing DB’s more time to adjust to his passes.
Although this would completely destroy most QB’s in the NFL and their chance to win, those same passes allowed Carolina WR Steve Smith to adjust as well, and Smith bailed out his QB in many situations. It's plays like this that put Steve Smith into MVP consideration entering the 2009 season.
How much more valuable can a player be to his club than Smith is to the Panthers?
Jake Delhomme has a 50-31 record as the starter for the Carolina Panthers. That is a very impressive number for a man who wasn’t even drafted into the league, and basically had to work for every chance available to get on the field during his early career. But the real number to key in on is his 7-22 record when he has more than 30 pass attempts.
That record alone is scary, especially for a team that has all the tools in place to be one of the best offenses in the NFL entering 2009. NFL defenses will likely do everything they can to stop the Panther rushing attack, and allow Delhomme to rack up pass attempts as the game goes on. The more pass attempts Delhomme has, the more chance Carolina has at losing the game.
When you look at the Carolina Panther offense on paper, you can envision what this team could be with a Tom Brady, Drew Brees, or even a Donovan McNabb under center. But it would just be on paper, because the Carolina Panthers are committed to living and dying by their QB Jake Delhomme. And John Fox is showing no intentions of changing that anytime soon.
When looking at the overall total of Delhomme’s contract extension the numbers are pretty big…five-years, 30.4 million dollars. But it was an extension that benefits the Panthers in a lot of areas. Delhomme will only account for just over two million in the salary cap for each of the next two seasons.
Compare that to the 25 million that McNabb will account for against the Eagles cap the next two seasons. It is a good contract for the franchise that has talent throughout their entire roster. And we all know that with talent, comes higher payrolls.
But when you have a team that is loaded like the Carolina Panthers are, fans want to make sure that 12-4 seasons aren’t wasted on a QB who throws the ball five times to the other team in the postseason.
That is why it is essential that for the upcoming 2009 season, Jake Delhomme must work on becoming the most consistent QB in the NFL, and not worry about being a star like Peyton Manning.
I don’t see this team winning a Super Bowl with Jake Delhomme under center. The fans who still hang on to the 2003 season must now realize that that was six years ago and that the player Delhomme once was has slowly died down into mediocrity, kind of like a Delhomme deep ball dies down in the air once it is launched.
Everyone has an opinion, and it is clear that mine is more of doubt for Delhomme. So what better way for Jake and the 2009 Carolina Panthers to create their place in history, than to roll through the division title, playoffs, and through the Super Bowl…shutting people up like me, who just can’t see it happening?
That’s how Delhomme can make it a little quieter in 2009, and it would not bother me one bit if he did shut me up.
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