Matt Rhule hiring puts Carolina Panthers at crossroads

Carolina Panthers appear to be laying the groundwork for a complete rebuild.

Owner David Tepper closed the deal. Known for being able to get exactly what he wants – and having the bankroll to back it up – Tepper landed the Carolina Panthers new head coach before his candidate completed a full slate of interviews. Highly sought after by the New York Giants and others, Matt Rhule is set to become the fifth coach in team history and first with an offensive background.

Building a strong resume by turning around two collegiate programs – Baylor and Temple – in a short amount of time, Rhule had both playing in their respective conference championship games in just a few short years. As a proven leader of young men, it’s clear to see why Tepper was excited about the hire but if his style and capabilities translate into success on the professional level remains to be seen.

If anything is evident, it’s that hiring Rhule clearly puts the Panthers franchise at a crossroads. While the next major indication will be a decision on quarterback Cam Newton, whether Tepper and the Panthers intend on supporting the core group of players already on the roster or creating their own direction will be revealed.

If Newton returns along with tight end Greg Olsen, the Panthers could use their seventh overall pick to target an offensive lineman. Doing so should provide a key piece up front for protection and to help pave the way for running back Christian McCaffrey. Along with a talented group of receivers, big things would be expected from the offense. Opposite, despite defensive struggles last season, hopefully whoever Rhule hires as coordinator can provide some stability and improvement in that regard.

However, if Newton is traded or released and Olsen doesn’t return, then the man known for turning around programs is going to get an immediate opportunity to build Carolina back into an annual contender. Undoubtedly, if the former No. 1 overall pick and league MVP isn’t coming back then finding a quarterback would take first priority.

The path when former coach Ron Rivera was hired ahead of landing Newton and the two leading Carolina through their most successful stretch in franchise history and this instance could be eerily similar, although an equal talent doesn’t appear to be available for the Panthers this time around.

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Either way, it will be interesting to see what direction Tepper, Rhule and the Panthers front office chooses to take this offseason.

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