The 2011 offseason is one that most NFL fans won't soon forget. The lock out has been a very taxing and trying time for the men involved on both the players' and the owners' sides. One team that is likely to be impacted as much, if not more, than any other is the Carolina Panthers. The following slides will list some pros and cons of how the lock out has, is and will affect the league's 29th franchise.
Pressure will be on #1 Overall Pick Cam Newton
Here a Panthers rookie does as he is told
Con. The still (technically) unresolved CBA situation is pretty much the worst case scenario for any team with a new head coach or a rookie quarterback. But both of those together make for a really tough way to start a new era for any franchise. Now throw in a roster with no proven veteran quarterback, a star wide receiver who allegedly wants to be traded and a lighting rod of an owner, and you might not get a winner, but you sure will get some drama.
Jerry Richardson seems ready to big the big bucks
Pro. One of the biggest PR issues the Panthers have had to deal with the last two years was the lack of keeping veteran players and the lack of free agent signings, which resulted in the team being well below the salary cap. This also meant that their on the field product was pretty poor, too. The Panthers finished a league worst 2-14 in 2010.
How is this a pro, you might ask? Well, if you are a glass half full kind of person, you can look back on the last two years as preparing for the future. Fans were livid as to how the last two offseasons have gone, but owner Jerry Richardson seemed to have a plan. Clear the books for 2011 when the new CBA is in place and the Panthers will have money to spend. This is definitely the case now, especially with the institution of a salary floor for 2011. Most experts estimate that the Panthers will have upwards of $50 million to spend in free agency.
"We will be aggressive" was the quote from Richardson last week when asked by a reporter about what the Panthers will do in free agency. You could debate whether the strategy was worth it over the course of several years, but it is worth it for 2011. As many as eight teams are already over the projected cap of roughly $120 million per team. Those teams just won't have money to spend on big name free agents; the Panthers, however, will.
No one can question Cam Newton's physical tools, but can he adjust to life in the NFL?
Con. One of the hardest things for a rookie quarterback to do is just learning how an NFL offense is run. The thick playbook, the terminology, the speed of the game. These are just a few of the challenges facing any rookie QB who has from April until August to prepare for his first season.
Basically, Cam Newton has spent one half of one day inside the walls of Bank of America Stadium. When the lock out was briefly lifted the day after the first round of the NFL Draft, players had just started filing into their respective facilities when word came out that the lock out was back on and they had to leave. At this point, it might be hard for Carolina to even think about starting Cam from day one.
Pro (possibly in disguise). If Cam hadn't been ready, even with a full offseason program, there would still have been pressure to play him. But if he wasn't or isn't ready, the loss of the entire off-season may take the choice out of the hands of the team and give Cam a while to learn from the sidelines. No matter how successful Cam ends up being, we will never know what he would have been like with a full offseason program this year.
Will Panthers fans ever see this image again? Almost certainly, but maybe not in this uniform.
This one is a little gray if you ask me. I will list a pro and con for this one, and the answer really depends on who you ask.
Con. One tough thing about professional sports is when a successful player gets towards the end of their career and their team goes through a rebuilding phase. Some players will gracefully play out the time they have left and go quietly into the night.
Let's get one thing clear. Steve Smith, love him or hate him, does not fall into this category. Smith has been arguably the best player in franchise history. He is one of only a handful of wide receivers to ever win the "triple crown" of receiving, leading the league in touchdown catches, receptions and receiving yards all in the same season. He did it in 2005. He made the most famous catch in team history when he was on the receiving end of a Jake Delhomme touchdown pass that ended only the fifth game in NFL history to go to double overtime.
I could go on and on with accolades, but the reality is that Steve isn't happy. He wants to win. He wants to win now. He knows he doesn't have many years left, not productive ones anyway, and his window is closing. If he sticks around for a two or three year rebuilding process, he might never win an NFL title. One thing you don't want on your team is an unhappy wide receiver who has no patience for a rookie QB. Oh wait, wasn't that the Panthers last year, too?
Pro. Trading Smith might be a win-win for him and the team. If the team is satisfied with the progress of their trio of second year wide receivers (Brandon Lafell, Armanti Edwards and David Gettis) and could possibly pick up a younger free agent, they might deem Smith expendable and view trading him as a way to stock pile a future draft pick or two while allowing their younger guys to build rapport with Cam Newton.
I think that his status will boil down to whether or not the Panthers can get in return for him what "they" think he is worth. The key word being they, as in the Panthers front office. Smith is still under contract, and the Panthers are under no obligation to let him walk for free. If the best they can get in return for him is a fourth round pick, they should just say, sorry Steve, it's just business, so you are staying.
Charles Johnson (95) had a break out year in 2010 with a team high 11.5 sacks
Pro. The Panthers have around $50 million to spend in the next week or so. That is way too much time to contact, fly in and meet with hundreds of potential signees. The Panthers have what is maybe the best class of free agents in the league, and re-signing those guys will be a lot easier than going after players you don't know.
DeAngelo Williams, Charles Johnson and Thomas Davis are all players that General Manager Marty Hurney has said he wants to keep. The Panthers will likely get Davis for cheap, since he is coming off two ACL tears in as many years. Williams and Johnson won't be so easy. Many experts regard Williams (RB) and Johnson (DE) to be the best free agents at their position this year. Luckily for the Panthers, they have about as much money to spend as anyone in the league.
The other player the Panthers need to wrap up long term is center Ryan Kalil. Back at the end of the 2010 season, the Panthers placed the franchise tag on Kalil, but that will only be good for this year. Kalil is regarded as one of the top young centers in the league, and the team would be wise to lock him up for the foreseeable future. As the team starts to groom their QB of the future, having a Pro Bowl center will only make Cam Newton that much better.