Now that the NFL draft is over and we have more time on our hands than we know what to do with, our focus can shift to what things can the Carolina Panthers do in the offseason, when the offseason returns.
The Panthers are not known for making big splashy moves so I don't really expect anything crazy this offseason. While Marty Hurney and Jerry Richardson have seemed to move away from a more conservative game plan with the addition of Ron Rivera as head coach, there is still a great deal of work to be done before the Panthers get back on top of the NFC South.
Panthers fans likely have heard of Burney and Saunders as they were local products.
Saunders went undrafted likely due to concerns about his NCAA investigation which he came clean on. Saunders would be someone who could develop behind Jeremy Shockey and provide a mice option as a pass-catching tight end.
Burney is a little slow which is why he didn't get drafted but has great ball skills and would be someone who could fit in well in nickel-and-dime packages. Noel Devine would provide a change of pace on third downs and would be a great return man.
Matt Moore played his butt off for the Panthers at the end of the 2009-10 season, enough so that he earned the right to begin the 2010-11 season as the starter.
The NFL is a fickle league and quarterback driven, and at this point, would likely be third on the depth chart. That is likely not going to go over well with someone as recently as 12 months ago you thought would be the answer, at least not at quarterback. Someone like Kerry Collins or Chad Pennington could come in and give real guidance to Cam Newton and Jimmy Clausen and maybe start the season under center.
Richard Marshall has grown into an excellent starting cornerback. Letting him go would be a huge mistake and leave a huge hole on one side of the secondary. Marshall felt slighted this year by not receiving a long-term extension, and his play dipped a bit. Some security could see that performance bolstered. Unless the Panthers intend to make a big splash in free agency, this is a must do for the offseason.
No, he won't make us forget about Julius Peppers but after finding his way to the opponent's quarterback 12 times last season, he certainly made losing Peppers a little easier. Johnson will command a lage paycheck as a young pass-rusher but would be worth it to solidfy the defnsive line.
Right now, I am not sure either Clausen or Newton quite has a grasp of what it takes to win at the NFL level, but that doesn't mean someone doesn't need to play the position. I would have Clausen start, hope he performs adequately and next year trade him to the Redskins or some other quarterback needy team. Cam Newton has too much of a transition to the NFL game, and I doubt he has the leadership ability and skill to turn Carolina around like Michael Vick did with the Atlanta Falcons.
The Panthers had a glaring hole at defensive tackle last year and hopefully will be able to have found solutions to that in Sione Fua and Terrell McClain.
However, two rookies will not be enough, and with the right rotation, Tommie Harris might not find himself injured all the time and would provide someone for defenses to focus on in the middle of the defensive line. I would also like to see Cullen Jenkins here too, but I doubt the Packers let him go.
I'm not sure there is anyone out there who is worthy of top money outside of maybe Sidney Rice, and he only had one real breakout season. The second and third tier of the free-agent class is filled with injury-prone guys and players with holes in their games but could add value as rotation guys. Signing someone like Mike Sims-Walker, Steve Smith (NYG) or Jacoby Jones may help bolster promising young receivers David Gettis and Brandon LaFell.
Linebackers with bad knees are not a good long-term investment.
James Anderson performed well, and the Panthers just drafted Lawrence Wilson so Davis is a bit expendable. This is not to say Davis wasn't productive when on the field but more a reflection that he could never stay on the field.
This move will not be a fan-friendly move by any means, but the fact is that Williams has been injured the past few seasons and likely will do the same this year. In an NFL, where running back by committee is something that teams need, Williams will need a paycheck that is well beyond a committee back. Mike Goodson showed he can carry the load when needed last year and should be a serviceable replacement.
The trade that makes the most sense for both sides is trading Smith to the San Diego Chargers for Vincent Jackson. Malcolm Floyd already does what Jackson does for the Charges when healthy, and the Panthers get a young game-breaking wide receiver. Oakland is another option as Al Davis doesn't mind head cases. The Panthers would find a hard time finding a mix of players and draft picks to compensate them properly though.