With no money to spend and only 5 draft choices this year, Carolina Panthers General Manager David Gettleman has seemingly made the best out of the least. Let’s face it, his hands were tied and the consensus is he looks to have made logical moves where the needs were glaring and the price was right. Nobody’s expecting any stars from free agents he signed – the team just didn’t have the money to do anything other than help depth and get perhaps a spot-starter here or there…just no big impact players.
For the sake of argument, let’s say the draft wound up the same as it played out in 2013…although signing free agents would likely have changed it…so just play along and wonder “what if?” like I have:
2013 Free Agent Wide Receivers
Ahh…the sexiest, most intriguing player no matter what the price had to have been the now-Miami Dolphin Mike Wallace. The ‘fins went on a spending spree unlike I’ve ever seen and might be an exciting team to track no matter whom you root for.
Point being, I don’t think Gettleman would have gotten involved in that nor paid near that much for…anyone, frankly.
Marty Hurney? Ugh…yes, he’d have bid up Wallace’s price even higher for the Dolphins, at least. The ‘fins fell in love with the guy and it’s hard to resist sunny warm beaches with scantily-clad coeds in bikinis. Joe Philbin does seem to be building something special, in my opinion, but this isn’t about them.
Wallace still wouldn’t be a Panther, bottom line.
Now, that’s a different matter.
At age 29, Jennings should still be in the peak of his career and it’s time-consuming to develop young, productive WRs in the draft despite a Randy Moss 15 yrs ago or T.Y. Hilton last season. Like anything else, there are outliers, but you just cannot DEPEND on a rookie WR being an impact guy unless his nickname is that of a Transformer.
The fastest and probably the most sure-bet way to acquire WR talent is through free agency, despite the “building through the draft” rhetoric. Often, there are WRs that make large impacts over their careers having been drafted some time after the first couple of rounds.
You still draft your WR talent as usual, while bringing in a very good free agent to put in the mix. That accomplishes two things: One, you are almost guaranteed production, assuming your FA acquisition remains healthy, and get the added bonus of this experienced veteran passing along his knowledge to the youngsters, helping them grow in the process, and maximizing the chances of one of those young WRs “breaking out” as they learn and grow both physically and mentally.
Jennings would have made a great pick-up to pair with Smitty, giving the Panthers as dangerous a duo of WRs as exists in the NFL – yes, even compared with Julio Jones and Roddy White. Steve Smith is no longer the deep threat he once was, but Jennings would take over that role. Smitty’s incredible power in his compact frame would allow him to break that first tackle and YAC it up while Jennings gets double-teamed or defenses otherwise take the focus off of Smitty and turn to Jennings.
Had the Panthers any real money, they probably would have signed a starting-quality guard, draft or no draft, and upgraded at RT.
I doubt either position here would have been one that Gettleman would’ve broken the bank on, given that neither are “high-priority” positions in terms of positional value, but given the fact the team – by accident or design – is in fact a power running team on paper, depth is needed along the offensive line.
What about Andre Smith of the Bengals? Well, he’d actually have been the best choice at RT. He’s come a loooong way from his “flapping man-boob” 40-yard NFL Combine “dash” timed via calendar a few years back, but has developed nicely over his young career into one of the games premier RTs. To land a guy like that would’ve been a bit of a coup, as Cincy probably wouldn’t have easily let him go, but he’s a possibility.
Someone like perhaps a Sebastian Vollmer would have been a decent enough upgrade at RT to make a difference and could’ve been had relatively cheaply compared with Smith, although I admit I haven’t looked at their current salaries. It just seems to me Cincy wanted to keep Smith more than the Pats wanted Vollmer, but re-signed Vollmer out of necessity. The Pats don’t overpay their players as they tend to get more “organizational discounts” from talent wanting to play there in hopes of Tom Brady helping them get a ring.
Others out there include Phil Loadholt, Godser Cherilus, and Sam Baker….the point here is the Panthers could have upgraded at RT, and for a franchise-friendly price tag, had they had the cash flow…and Baker is already injured.
As for guards, Andy Levitre could be in Charlotte instead of Nashville. As it stands, Ron Rivera has a bit of an issue with the talent he has at guard right now – aside from Geoff Hangartner.
Rivera’s got two small-school guards that are big on strength and toughness but short on knowledge and experience as both Amini Silatolu and incoming rookie Edmund Kugbila come from Midwestern State and Valdosta State, respectively. While I would think a coach could handle one of his 2 guards being a bit of a “project,” circumstances dictated that they get a second one in the 2013 draft in Kugbila.
I’m pretty sure that getting a small-college tackle to play guard at the NFL level AND drafting ANOTHER small-school guy to pair up with him wasn’t exactly Rivera’s Evil Master Plan; things just turned out that way.
Since he already had one starter he has to bring along somewhat slowly, I’d think upgrading the other guard spot would probably have been a bit higher priority if nothing else to let Hangartner be the top guy off the bench for any of the 3 interior line positions. Having an established veteran like that coming off the bench would allow the offense to have an interior lineman come out, even with a minor ding for a series or two while he’s being checked out, and not miss a beat with Hangartner subbing in.
Cam wouldn’t have to wonder if the Geoff knew his assignments and the OC wouldn’t have to avoid calling certain plays where he’s the pivotal blocker.
Along those lines, and considering the fact that signing a starting-quality guard normally isn’t going to cost a ton, I’d think Gettleman would have picked one up if nothing else to make SURE to avoid the current situation at the position and Andy Levitre would have been in the top-3 for sure.
If not Levitre, Louis Vasquez is another guy to consider at 6’5″ 335 but Levitre probably would’ve been atop that list.
Same argument here as with the guards – looks like the team will be starting at least one, possibly two rookies at the DT spots, depending on how D’Wan Edwards shows his stuff in preseason vs. Kawann Short. That said, they’ll all be the top-3 in the DT rotation and all 3 probably lining up on short yardage/goal line plays.
Few teams or coaches WANT to start 2 rookies at the same position, no matter HOW talented they might be – again, for obvious reasons. Lack of NFL experience.
With the depth of the “hog mollies” in the NFL draft this year, Gettleman could’ve reasonably assumed a starting-quality DT would be on the board with their 2nd-round pick, possibly freeing up that #14 overall for another position going in.
As the board fell into place, it’s likely that Gettleman would still have drafted Star Lotulelei, as he was in the top-3 overall in most mock drafts before the NFL Combine, where the heart issue put a medical flag on the guy, causing him to fall completely out of the top-ten.
Thus, in reality, that 2nd-rounder would have been freed up to take someone other than Kawann Short…but who might’ve been that other DT?
Henry Melton of the Chicago Bears might’ve been an interesting pick-up who would have wound up fitting in very nicely beside Star on that D-line. His talents are more along the lines of the slasher/penetrator like D’Wan Edwards than the stonewall run-stopping style that Lotulelei plays, but Star could play EITHER DT position – he’s that talented.
However, looking at Melton’s career stats, HE broke-out in his 3rd season and continued that play through his 4th season, so his price would’ve been fairly high. He had 7 sacks in 2011 and another 6 last year. That’s big production from a DT, folks, and that wasn’t lost on DAAA BEARSSSSS organization as they re-signed him.
Gettleman may have pushed his price up for the Bears to hold on to him OR may well have lured him away. Either way, it wouldn’t have been on the cheap side. The Oakland Raiders’ Richard Seymour is still out there now, but is a 12-year veteran and only played in 8 games and probably couldn’t have been counted on to improve the run defense – age and injury issues would keep his price quite low.
With the 2 ends the Panthers have, adding Melton to put in with D’Wan Edwards in the Panthers’ own “NASCAR”-style package with 2 penetrating DTs, Gettleman could have set up a deadly sub-package to use on at least a third of all defensive plays. Melton undoubtedly could have helped some either way, and as it turns out in the draft with Star Lotulelei falling to the Panthers, the run-defending DT situation would have taken care of itself in any case.
Terrance Knighton could’ve been had after 4 years in Jacksonville, now in Denver. He’s probably the best value in terms of being the run-plug the Carolina Panthers really need on defense….he’s entering his 5th NFL season, has missed only 3 games in 4 seasons, and likely would’ve been one of the main targets for acquisition. He’s not flashy and doesn’t pile up huge stats, but his 6’3″ 330 lbs frame necessitates enemy offenses double-teaming him where possible and would have at least made those gaping holes up the middle a lot more narrow.
Here is where I could make this long article a LOT longer. We’re well aware of the price the Miami Dolphins paid Dannell Ellerbe to pry him away from the Baltimore Ravens, but the Panthers run a 4-3 straight…no “hybrids” or funny stuff really, and Ellerbe is an ILB/MLB. Obviously, that is not the position of need for Carolina with Luke Kuechly’s presence. They need outside ‘backers for depth especially with the departure of James Anderson.
If Gettleman wanted a weakside/sack artist, Paul Kruger of the Cleveland Browns might have been a target but in the 4-3, sacks aren’t quite the “big deal” from OLBs but Kruger’s the top talent on the 2013 FA list. His presence would certainly have blown the defensive playbook wide-open, however, as zone-blitzes could be added as they drop a defensive tackle to cover the short middle, sliding Kuechly to cover the weakside zone while sending Kruger in to blitz.
This is where I think Gettleman might’ve actually paid the money and made the move as far as the front-seven goes. Before the 2013 NFL Draft, few people listed OLB as a “team need” – except for yours truly in my pre-draft post “NFC South Team Needs.” I recognized the lack of depth the team had and that the Panthers are still depending on Thomas Davis’ trick knee to hold up and they don’t have a lot of talent behind them in the depth chart.
A Paul Kruger would’ve allowed Thomas Davis to sit for more plays, resting that knee, while providing a solid 3rd OLB to run in and out of the rotation depending upon the situation.
His presence would really “confuzzle” less experienced enemy QBs due to the antics he’d allow the defensive coordinator to install giving the team an ancillary benefit.
The safety spot is the odd position out, given having only 5 draft picks, and Gettleman and Rivera both seem to have similar trains of thought on defense…the front-seven is where games are decided.
With the liberal pass rules of the 21st century NFL, “coverage sacks” are almost a thing of the past and that puts even more pressure on the team’s pass-rushers.
Once again, Gettleman knows this all too well, coming from the New York Giants organization. They seemingly always have at least a good linebacking corps and one of the best D-lines in the NFL.
As I see it, the safety position is the biggest “need” position left on the Panthers’ defense, and I don’t have enough data on D.J. Campbell to say he’s the answer for the need of a playmaker in the secondary.
I think the corners are adequate and depth is good. Fan favorite Captain Munnerlyn is probably going to play both on the outside and nickel. While he’s short at 5’9″, he weighs in at 195 lbs and is VERY VERY strong so he can really play press coverage well, even against larger receivers. Rising 2nd-yr pro Josh Norman looks to take over the #1 corner spot and Drayton Florence and D.J. Moore will also be in the mix. They don’t really have a “star” – he’s on the defensive line from the 2013 draft – but no glaring holes at corner, so I think Gettleman’s satisfied with that and wouldn’t have been after the uber-pricey but fragile Darrelle Revis, who wound up in the division with Tampa Bay.
Those same Bucs signed Dashon Goldson from the San Francisco 49′ers and he has 9 INTs over the last 2 seasons. With the Panthers’ pass rush being fierce, Goldson would likely be the recipient of some balls thrown HIS way as QBs feel the pressure and launch a pass into a waiting trap.
I think if Gettleman had really wanted him and had money to work with, Goldson could well have been a Panther but the price would have been quite steep.
Ed Reed would’ve been a possibility, but the veteran is, in my opinion, on the downside of his career and was probably overpaid by the Houston Texans. That said, however, his reputation is enough to force enemy OCs and QBs to account for him on every play. Reed rightly sees the Texans as the best chance for him to get another ring (of those among his suitors) and would probably take less money from Houston for that chance as the Panthers are largely regarded as still being “at least a year away.”
LaRon Landry might have been used as leverage against talks with Goldson, but with 2 FS players with 3 suitors (Landry wound up in Indy for the upcoming season after one year with the Jets), it would’ve made for an interesting situation as far as contract talks might have gone. However, Landry made 100 tackles with the Jets from the FS position and is better against the run than Goldson but isn’t the ball-hawk that Goldson is. Landry would be an upgrade too, but Goldson would still have been the biggest prize.
As for the other safeties – Adrian Wilson, William Moore, and George Wilson – they’re all strong safeties, but perhaps Adrian Wilson could have made the shift to FS and make a difference there. The Panthers’ current roster features a ton of second-string quality safeties, including Charles Godfrey, who will be starting once again.
So, here’s my Wish List for 2013….if they’d had the money…but with modifications allowing for likely prices of acquisition, Gettleman’s history and Rivera’s overall views:
FS Dashon Goldson
WLB Paul Kruger
DT Henry Melton
WR Greg Jennings
RT Sebastian Vollmer
RG Andy Levitre
…and those, my loyal readers, are the free agents that most likely would have filled each given “position of need” that the Carolina Panthers had entering the 2013 NFL Draft.
…follow me on Twitter @Ken_Dye