Carolina Panthers Will Suffer Consequences for Disappointing Season

Austin Penny@@AustinPennyAnalyst IDecember 2, 2009

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 29:  Head coach John Fox of the Carolina Panthers looks on against the New York Jets on November 29, 2009 at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Jets defeated the Panthers 17-6.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

I'll be taking the stairs today, as the elevator is out of order.  I'm not sure when it will be fixed and nobody seems to be able to give me a timetable either.

Instead of taking the approach I've taken after (almost) every other Panthers game this season, highlighting the ups and downs of the team's performance, I'm going to take this time and space to start the discussions that will reign over the water coolers, message boards, chat rooms, newspapers, blogs, and conversations from February to August regarding this team and this franchise as a whole.

The time has come for change in Carolina. Actually, the time has been here for a while, but it has taken 12 weeks of the season for it to finally set in all the way that this team will have to experience a makeover unlike any seen before in this franchise's history in order to re-establish itself as an NFC contender. 

It is unlikely that we will ever know the full story or the real reasons behind why Mark and Jon Richardson bolted from their front-office positions prior to the season kicking off in Carolina, but it is evident that they knew something we did not. 

As it turns out, the exit of the owner's sons was last on a list of disturbing offseason developments that bridged the successful 2008 season (not counting the playoffs) to the nightmarish 2009 campaign.

It all began with the Julius Peppers saga. There is no need for me to get into detail about the ordeal—we all know it far too well. To sum it up, Peppers declared publicly that he had no desire to remain a Carolina Panther and wanted to play elsewhere to reach his "full potential." 

The Panthers front office had no intentions of letting Peppers—a free agent—walk, so they slapped the franchise tag on him when they couldn't ink a long-term deal. That tied up roughly $16.7 million of cap space for the Panthers while they played the waiting game for Peppers to sign the franchise tender. 

Now, this wouldn't have been as tragic as it turned out to be if the Panthers hadn't experienced the kind of turnover they did following their successful season.

A big reason why the Panthers did so well in 2008 was because they had a number of players on the roster who were backups in Carolina, but could very well start for other teams in the NFL. This became evident when the offseason came around, as much of the depth that aided the Panthers through various injuries and scenarios in 2008 was picked off by other NFL teams. 

Suddenly, with the franchising of Peppers, the Panthers found themselves with handcuffs on during the free agency period, unable to improve at several key positions. 

Then came the Jake Delhomme extension. Delhomme had just thrown five interceptions and lost a fumble during the Panthers 33-13 debacle of a loss to eventual NFC champions Arizona

In his postgame news conference, Delhomme was fighting to hold back tears and was visibly shaken from head to toe for the first time in his tenure as a Panther. He looked like a man who had just had his confidence shattered into oblivion. 

The Panthers, in an effort to re-establish Delhomme's confidence and assure him of their support while freeing up some cap space, chose to extend Delhomme's contract before he headed into its final year.

If only that were the worst part of the story. An extension was all but imminent for Delhomme, after all, the guy is on a first-name basis with the entire fanbase.  The problem came when the front office decided to guarantee Delhomme $20 million. 

That's a hell of a lot of cash to be throwing at a 34-year-old quarterback who was coming off of the worst game of his career, a game that was supposed to be the first step towards a possible Super Bowl run.

It pretty much guaranteed Delhomme that he would be the starter in 2009 and likely in 2010. Instead of bringing in somebody like Jeff Garcia, Michael Vick, or anyone for that matter, who could challenge him for the starting job and make him rise to the occasion, the Panthers chose to stand pat behind their shaken field general.

Still, optimism surrounded the Panthers heading into the preseason. The first couple of games were losses, but there wasn't a lot of flare in the offensive play-calling or the defensive packages, almost as if the Panthers didn't want to give too much up during the exhibitions. 

It wasn't until the Panthers found themselves winless throughout the entire preseason that some of the once outrageous predictions of a major slump for Carolina in 2009 started to carry some potential truth to them.

And that is exactly what has happened. Delhomme was benched in the third quarter of the first game of the season, but hasn't tasted the pine for performance reasons since. That is the puzzling part to many Panthers fans. Why was Fox so willing to yank Delhomme on opening day but won't do it now when he puts up similar numbers? 

It's almost as if Fox and general manager Marty Hurney have put their jobs directly in the hands of Delhomme, who is seemingly letting them down. 

It's obvious that some things will change after the end of this painful season, but the final five games will go a long way toward determining just how high the buzz saw will reach. A strong finish against some of the league's better teams might be able to spare Fox his job due to his strong relationship with Jerry Richardson. With the way the Panthers have been playing lately, though, that scenario seems unlikely.

If Fox goes, it's likely that Hurney will also bite the dust. Hurney has been the team's GM since Fox took over for George Seifert following the infamous 1-15 season in 2001. He is one of the top executives in the game according to , but his failed re-signing of Delhomme and the way the Peppers situation unfolded will likely lead to his fall from the team if, in fact, the avalanche starts at the top.

This season has been a rough one for the Panthers players, coaches, and fans alike, and it is drawing to a close. Unlike seasons past where the Panthers have failed to repeat playoff appearances, this time around the results will carry consequences. All we can do for now is weather the last few weeks of the storm and soak up some knowledge about some of the young players we have on our roster.