Grading Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers' Offseason Moves

Brandon BeckerCorrespondent IOctober 6, 2011

Grading Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers' Offseason Moves

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    The Carolina Panthers had a wild and crazy offseason. It started with the selection of Cam Newton with the first overall pick this past April and concluded after the first wave of free agency. 

    Carolina was the most active team throughout free agency next to the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles spent a boatload of money bringing in free agents from outside the organization, whereas the Panthers spent a boatload of money retaining their own players.

    Panthers' owner Jerry Richardson was criticized last year for being frugal and not spending money, but he responded in a big way this year.

    Let's take a closer look at the moves the Panthers made this offseason now that we are well into the season.

Re-Signing DeAngelo Williams

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    At the time the Panthers shelled out a five-year, $43 million contract for Williams it was largely perceived that Carolina overpaid. Four games into the season and the talented running back has done nothing yet to prove that he isn't overpaid. 

    Williams got elite running back money this offseason to help take the pressure off of rookie quarterback Cam Newton. Instead, Newton has carried the offense and Williams and the Panthers' rushing attack has struggled.

    It doesn't help Williams out that Jonathan Stewart has looked better this season. The two have been a more than formidable duo for the past few years, but it was always Williams who garnered the most attention of the two and was perceived to be the better back.

    Luckily for Williams, there still are 12 games left on the schedule and plenty of time for him to get it going. He's coming off a nice 10 carry, 82-yard performance against the Chicago Bears, so it's possible that he is just getting into the groove of things.

    But due to the slow start and the high contract, it's hard not to give Williams a low grade.

    Grade: D

Trading for Greg Olsen and Signing Jeremy Shockey

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    For the longest time the Panthers were inept at the tight end position. John Fox used his tight ends to block primarily during his tenure. 

    Now that Ron Rivera is in charge he has changed the tight end culture in Carolina. First, the Panthers brought in Jeremy Shockey, which was a nice move. Acquiring Olsen really cemented Rivera's vision of the tight end.

    The Panthers gave up a third-round pick to get Olsen and have received a good return so far. Through four games, Olsen has caught 17 passes for 219 yards to go with two touchdowns.

    Shockey hasn't been as productive but he has still been solid. He's allowed Carolina to have two pass-catching tight ends on the field at the same time, which has been a blessing for Newton.

    One of the biggest beneficiaries of the two tight ends is veteran wide receiver Steve Smith, who is off to a fantastic start at the age of 32. Having Shockey and Olsen occupy the middle has helped free up Smith and has given him more space to operate.

    Grade: A+

Giving Thomas Davis an Extension

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    This next one is tough. Davis by all accounts is a great human being and a leader in the Panthers' locker room. But he was already coming off two ACL injuries coming into the season, so it was definitely a risk by the Carolina front office to sign him to a long term deal.

    Of course, the worst case scenario happened for Davis and the Panthers and he tore his ACL for a third consecutive year. A once promising career has been put on hold again due to injuries. 

    The Panthers protected themselves in case this would happen though, and can get out of paying the remainder of the contract by simply cutting him at the end of the season. Many would call it quits but in Davis' case he says he is going to try to come back.

    There's a possibility that Carolina could cut him and re-sign him to a short term deal that isn't very expensive after this season. At the moment it's hard to say. The worst part about the whole ordeal is that Davis looked like fast and agile in the time he was on the field.

    What once looked like a promising year for him has turned into a disastrous one.

    Grade: D-

Re-Signing Charles Johnson

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    Charles aka "Big Money" Johnson has been the Panthers' best defensive player this season. So far he is living up to the six-year, $72 million contract that he signed this past offseason. 

    It was a bold move for the Panthers to give Johnson that kind of money after one very good season, but they did and it looks like the right move. Already Johnson has four sacks in four games, tied for fifth in the league. 

    What is most impressive about Johnson is the consistency with which he plays. He has a sack in each game this season and plays with a consistent effort. 

    Julius Peppers was a longtime Carolina Panther before he split to Chicago and he is definitely more talented than Johnson. But one thing that separates the two is that Johnson has never had his level of effort come into question.

    The same cannot be said for Peppers, who was often criticized in Carolina for taking plays off and disappearing for large stretches. 

    Bottom line: The Panthers made the right decision in rewarding Johnson with a big contract to ensure that he will be in Carolina for a long time.

    Grade: A

Re-Signing James Anderson

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    Anderson by no means is a star but he is a capable linebacker. The Panthers gave him a five-year, $22.5 million deal in hopes that he would build off of last season's impressive performance.

    Last season, Anderson had 130 tackles, 101 solo. This season, he is on pace to finish with 100 tackles (84 solo). Carolina was hoping that Anderson would excel playing next to Jon Beason and Thomas Davis.

    Instead the six year veteran is the only one of the three to not suffer a season-ending injury so far. Carolina has a depleted linebacking corps right now and too much is being asked of Anderson. 

    Without Beason next to him, he has looked like just another linebacker. There still is plenty of time left for Anderson to step up his play. As of now the signing looks rather ordinary.

    Grade: C

Ron Edwards Signing

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    There isn't too much to say about Edwards other than he was supposed to help stabilize the Panthers' run defense. He's a big body who helped eat up space with the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills over his 11-year career.

    Carolina fans will have to wait to see what they got with the Edwards signing until next year as he tore his triceps during a training camp practice, which landed him on injured reserve.

    The loss of Edwards for the season has forced the Panthers to start two rookie defensive tackles. Who knows how he would have performed over the course of the season? He at least would've added depth to a position in which the Panthers could use help.

    Grade: Incomplete

Drafting Cam Newton

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    This grade will be pretty obvious. The Panthers struck gold in drafting the former Heisman trophy winner with the No. 1 overall pick. Newton has exceeded expectations and has delivered week in and week out for Carolina.

    If the Panthers had a better defense they may good enough to compete for a playoff spot. But that is not the case. 

    The struggles of Stewart and Williams have put a lot of pressure on the broad shoulders of Newton, yet he has handled it admirably. The accuracy concerns that many had about him coming out of the draft have dissipated.

    Newton has showed that he can make the touch pass and fit a ball in a tight spot. There still is room for improvement going forward though, such as learning how to give up on a play when nothing is there as opposed to forcing a throw downfield.

    The Panthers need to get their running game on track in order to take some of the pressure off Newton and make his life easier. As of now he's carrying too much of the load. Even though he's handled it nicely so far it's important not to wear him out early on over the course of a long season.

    Grade: A+