As most of you now know, the Panthers released their all-time leading receiver Steve Smith. Most of you, myself included, had a similar reaction to this young Panthers fan. This move was less about money and more about the fact that Gettleman thought Steve would be a distraction in the locker room. A ridiculous thought, as Smith brings a passion for winning and a team first attitude. Gettleman also let the other top 3 Panthers receivers walk in free agency. Ted Ginn joined Arizona, Lafell joined Tom Brady in New England, and Domenik Hixon signed with Chicago. Gettleman expected to sign a new receiver in free agency, mainly Hakeem Nicks or James Jones, yet both receivers accepted contracts from other teams.
So now the Panthers starting receivers are Marvin McNutt and Tavarres King. Neither receiver has an NFL catch on their resume. Jerico Cotchery met with the Panthers yesterday, but he is a 31 year old receiver and not even on the same level as Steve Smith. Gettleman needs to make a play for Sidney Rice. He has an injury history, which should allow the Panthers to sign him for a discount or a 1-year deal, and hope he can perform at a high level. Gettleman will have to draft 2-3 receivers this year and hope they can contribute immediately. Unfortunately, most rookie receivers don’t have a huge impact in their first year. Luckily this draft is loaded with wide receiver talent and sleepers. I have about 60% gut feeling that Gettleman will trade up in this draft to take Eric Ebron or even Sammy Watkins. Watkins is a name that has been popping up around the organization and scouts agree he is the surest thing to an elite receiving talent in this year’s draft.
I am not happy with Gettleman this offseason. I understand the cap situation is a mess and leaves him with little to work with. The one good move he has made was retaining Greg Hardy. That ensured the Panthers will still have one of the best front sevens in the NFL. The problem is, if they don’t find receivers, the defense will always be on the field. That or Cam Newton will have to rush for 1000 yards this season. The Panthers were a team that only needed a few pieces to be a Superbowl contender, but Gettleman has approached this offseason as a team that is rebuilding.
I’ll give Gettleman a pass for now, as free agency is a high risk low reward scenario. Many players receive big contracts and fail to live up to the hype. Gettleman approached last year in the same manner and found some gems. I still believe he should have restructured Steve Smith’s contract, but it is in the past and I will have to move on like the rest of us. It is hard to picture the Panthers being a playoff team this season. Tampa Bay made many moves to improve their team this offseason, Atlanta will be healthy, and the Saints are always the Saints. The NFC South is now the toughest division in the NFL and we will see that this season. The Panthers still have a shot with their elite defense, but they will have to have one of the best drafts this year in order for the offense to keep up.