Carolina Panthers Add Kick Returner Jones

Matthew GilmartinSenior Analyst ISeptember 1, 2008

The Carolina Panthers addressed what was seemingly their last issue from last year by acquiring free agent Mark Jones Monday afternoon.

Jones, a kick returner, was cut Saturday by the San Diego Chargers despite leading the team in kick returns with a 24.7-yard average on six returns. 

Jones could also answer the Panthers' questions about their punt returning.  He averaged 13 yards on seven returns.  This made him the fourth-ranked player among players with five or more punt returns this preseason. 

In 2007 Jones, entering his fifth year in the NFL, played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  He averaged 28.6 yards on 10 kickoff returns and 11.9 yards on 12 punt returns.  

This move wasn't the best, though, as the Panthers had to part ways with wide receiver Dominique Thompson to make room for Jones.  And Jones doesn't play receiver in addition to returning kicks and punts. 

This makes them really short on depth at receiver, especially for the first two games of the season, for which they will not have star Steve Smith due to a suspension for breaking teammate Ken Lucas' nose in a training camp fight.

For the first two games of the season, the Panthers will now only have receivers DJ Hackett, Muhsin Muhammad, and Dwayne Jarrett.

The fact that the Panthers waived Thompson also makes me wonder whether they intend to enter the season with five receivers, the normal number for NFL teams, on their roster.  Now that they have waived Thompson, they only have four receivers, and there is nothing to indicate that they are interested in signing another wide receiver before the season.

This could have an impact on their chances of winning.

Presumably, without five receivers, opposing teams will no longer have to worry about game planning for five-wide receiver sets, making game planning easier and more efficient. 

It also cuts down on the Panthers' offensive options.  They will have fewer formations to work out of, which means they won't be able to surprise opponents as easily or as much.  Plus they will not have as many receivers to throw to in two-minute drills, which could be a significant hindrance, particularly when trailing by seven points or less at the end of games.

This move could also be taken to mean that the Panthers have enough confidence in the other areas of their offense, most importantly, their rushing attack, that they don't feel they need extra pass plays that cater to a greater number of receivers.

The Panthers signed Mark Jones to, at the very least, return kickoffs for them.  There could be more to this move than meets the eye.