Wow, we made it through a fascinating and long day in Carolina Panthers history; quite possibly one of the biggest day in Panthers history in regards to personnel decisions.
Everyone expected defensive end Julius Peppers‘ move onto the free agent market. We all knew it would be a short stay for Pep, who was on the market for 15 hours before he and the Chicago Bears finalized a deal that will keep Peppers in Chi-town for six years, and most likely the remainder of his career.
The bigger—perhaps biggest news of the day came as a shock, when rumors leaked out late Thursday night that the Panthers would be moving on without seven-year veteran Jake Delhomme, as their quarterback.
The press conference was a tear-jerker, although I didn’t get to join in on that, being ESPN had it’s own programming going on. But seeing some of the replays throughout the day, it definitely looked like a situation that was handled with delicacy and class.
In the end, it was a move that was necessary for monetary and business reasons. It doesn’t sit well with a lot of fans for various reasons. Others are indifferent; some are happy with the move, again for various reasons.
While it pained me a bit, I was in support of the move. When news first came across the wire late last night, I was actually excited because it signaled the beginning of a new era.
Will I miss Delhomme? Yeah, I’ll miss him. His intangibles are irreplaceable. He was a leader, a competitor, a good role model, and perhaps the type of person a father would want his son to grow up to be like.
But I understand the need to move on. I can’t promise anyone that the Matt Moore era will be a grand success, but the kid has got to start sometime, and he did make a strong showing late in the Panthers’ 2009 campaign. So let’s rally behind him as the Panthers’ new offensive signal-caller.
The Panthers also said good byes (though less tearful) to defensive tackles Maake Kemoeatu, Damione Lewis, and linebackers Na’il Diggs and Landon Johnson.
Kemoeatu’s release I half expected. It’s an uncapped year, he’s coming off an Achilles’ injury and surgery. Is he really worth the risk? Probably not.
Damione Lewis was something of a curious move. He is 32, and 10 seasons in the NFL has an effect on the body that I can’t even imagine. If the Panthers sign him to a long-term contract, you’re looking at probably keeping him until he’s 36. Not much sense there, either.
Na’il Diggs is another player who will turn 32 in July, and again with no risk of being bitten by a salary cap penalty, the Panthers moved on without Diggs as well.
Of the players released today, Landon Johnson was probably about the most surprising, but age would be the only element of surprise.
Everyone released today also shared something in common: they were on the back side of their contracts, some were old, they were due salaries that were greater than their actual value, and guys like Johnson, Lewis, Diggs, and Kemoeatu were originally brought in as role players.
This doesn’t leave the Panthers without anyone on the roster, although the remaining players are young and for the most part inexperienced as starters.
Delhomme’s replacement is probably the easiest for the Panthers to name: Matt Moore. But the rest of the roster gets tricky.
With the departures of defensive tackles Hollis Thomas, and Damione Lewis, the Panthers have six defensive tackles with a total combined four starts…That’s the scary part.
At the defensive tackle position, the Panthers return a core of youngsters in Nick Hayden, Louis Leonard, Tank Tyler, Corvey Irvin, Derek Landri, and newly-acquired Ed Johnson (who played under defensive coordinator Ron Meeks in Indianapolis).
"“What happened at defensive tackle was last year, in training camp after Maake went down (with a torn Achilles tendon), that was probably our biggest position of need. We were very aggressive and went out and made a couple trades (of) draft choices and got Louis Leonard and Tank Tyler. We feel like we’ve got some young guys at defensive tackle who can step up.” -Panthers GM, Marty Hurney"
Taking over Diggs’ and Johnson’s newly vacated linebacker spots are a pair of third-round picks; James Anderson and Dan Connor.
Anderson, a restricted free agent who was tendered at a third-round level, started on the strong side in place of an injured Diggs at Dallas in Week Three.
Dan Connor started in Week 14 at the New England Patriots.
Replacing the departed Julius Peppers and Tyler Brayton at defensive end (easier said than done), are Charles Johnson and Everette Brown.
Whenever he was given an opportunity, Brown showed a lot of promise as the 2009 season carried on. A full offseason of training and conditioning with the team will help his ability a great deal.
Beyond the changes made today, the Panthers still have their core—Thomas Davis, Jon Beason, Chris Gamble, Jordan Gross, Steve Smith, DeAngelo Williams, and Jonathan Stewart.
Not a bad core of players to be left with, by any means. In the end, the Panthers want to get younger in areas they were aging. They want the young guys that they drafted a few years ago to step up and take over where their predecessors left off. It’s the best thing to do.
Moving on can be a painful experience, but these men understand that’s a part of life. Change isn’t always a bad thing, either. It comes with growing. Whether it’s in professional sports, or working a regular blue-collar 9-5, we can all be guaranteed of one thing: change. We might not always agree with it, but it’s always around the corner.
One thing to keep in mind too, and I’m going to leave off with this. The players will come and go. Some we’ll grow to love, some we’ll welcome their departure. But the fans stay. The fans are the lifers. They’re the ones who are supposed to remain loyal to the organization which they choose to affiliate themselves. Not the players. It’s not the nature of the business.