Well now that the season is over it’s time for Carolina to shift their focus to offseason needs. The Panthers are coming off of a much-improved 6-10 season, which saw them play extremely competitive and take the lead in 14 of 16 games. Through that process it was clear the Panthers had found their franchise quarterback in rookie Cam Newton, but there are still other missing pieces that need to be added in order for this team to reach there full potential.
The Thomas Davis Situation
One of the first offseason issues the Panthers should address is the contract situation with Thomas Davis. Davis is coming off of his third knee surgery and is definitely not going to draw any big money offers from other teams around the league. However, Davis has made it clear that he wants to try to play again and would like to continue his career as a Carolina Panther. The Panthers could sign him to a contract that leaves them with little risk. Something like a 1-year/ $1 million dollar deal. That way if Davis stays healthy and returns to pro bowl form, then the Panthers get a tremendous amount of value for the money they invested in him. And if he has another injury or just simply isn’t the player he was before, then they don’t really lose much. However, you can’t go into the season assuming that Davis is going to be one of your starting linebackers and not have a backup plan. Even if the Panthers do elect to resign Davis they should definitely draft a linebacker or at least add a veteran with starting experience via free agency.
How to Approach the Draft
The Panthers aren’t a good enough team where they can select one top 10 prospect, then magically make it to the super bowl. They are an up and coming team that has playoff potential, but is in need of a handful of good young talent. That being said, I think the Panthers need to trade down to pick 20-25, whichever team gives them the best deal. If something crazy happens where Robert Griffin III or Justin Blackmon is still on the board when its our pick, then there will be a lot teams calling in and trying to make a deal with us to obtain our pick. An ideal situation would be if the Panthers could trade down and pick up and additional 2nd and 3rd round pick for this years draft.
They could use that mid-20’s first round pick to grab a DT to solidify that crippled and inexperienced defensive line, or they could go ahead and draft a linebacker to replace Thomas Davis. With that 8th pick in the second round I think its critical that they select a cornerback to start opposite of Chris Gamble. Captain Munnerlyn just simply doesn’t have the size or skill to cover the #1 and #2 receivers of opposing teams in this league; and we have yet to see if Brandon Hogan is going to progress into a talent that is worthy of a starting position. With that late 2nd round pick that we would have obtained by trading down, I think we should use it to draft a linebacker or defensive tackle, whichever one we don’t select in the first round. Then we could use the 3rd round pick to draft a safety that will give Sherrod Martin some competition. Martin underachieved the last two years and has done nothing to show me that he is worthy of being a starter in this league. So I think it is critical that the Panthers draft someone to push him to get better or eventually take over the position. The 4th through 7th round picks should be used to add depth to the offensive and defensive lines, and another linebacker wouldn’t hurt either. The Panthers might even decide to go with a WR in the late rounds, depending on what they decide to do with Legedu Naanee and Armanti Edwards.
Free Agency Acquisitions
Its great to have young talent, but its also important to have veterans who have been in critical situations before and know how to win. That’s why I think it’s pivotal that the Panthers bring in some free agents to make this a complete and balanced team. I would recommend bringing in a free agent corner, who can compete for a starting role or at least be a solid nickel corner. I think the same should be done with the Safety position. Carolina should bring someone in to compete with Sherrod Martin for the starting free safety job. Competition always brings the best out of players and the Panthers need some more depth at that position anyways. I expect the Panthers to also bring in a veteran middle linebacker (and also an outside linebacker), seeing as how Dan Conner will most likely leave during free agency in the hopes of finding a starting job somewhere. And with Jon Beason missing all of last year due to injury it would be nice to have somebody that can be inserted into the lineup and be successful in case Beason runs into more injury problems.
Another thing that should be at the top of Carolina’s offseason tasks is the progression of Cam Newton. Newton put the offense on his shoulders this past season and was the centerpiece of the team. Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski also played a huge part in Newton’s success and the entire offense as a whole. He designed plays and formations that played to Newton’s strengths as a quarterback, which naturally made the offense flow smoothly and be effective. If Newton can become more accurate with his passes and develop a little bit better decision making skills, then he can become virtually unstoppable. The way he can make plays with his feet and his arm is something that only a couple of guys in NFL history have ever been able to achieve.
If the Panthers can achieve all of these offseason tasks successfully then I think they will give the Saints a strong run for the division title and definitely have a good chance at being a wild card team. This is going to be an exciting team to watch for the next decade or so and the sky is the limit as for what this team can achieve.