How long will the Carolina Panthers road to revelancy take?

(Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports) David Tepper
(Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports) David Tepper /

How long with the Carolina Panthers’ road to relevancy take after firing Matt Rhule and trading top stars like running back Christian McCaffrey?

Tanking is a dirty word in NFL circles. But judging by the actions within the Carolina Panthers over the last two weeks, it’s clear they are already planning for a future beyond the current campaign.

While going full-tank won’t ever be admitted or accepted with players fighting for their own futures, the Panthers opted to look long-term. Firing Matt Rhule was just the start.

General manager Scott Fitterer traded away Robbie Anderson to the Arizona Cardinals and another expected move arrived late on Thursday evening when Christian McCaffrey was sent to the San Francisco 49ers for four draft selections over a two-year period.

McCaffrey was the face of the franchise and the beating heart of an offense that will now look even more lost without his presence. This short-term pain for potential long-term gain is a risk, but something had to give considering the current plight surrounding the organization.

Carolina Panthers must build to contention gradually

It looks as if the Panthers are right in contention for the No. 1 overall selection. They now have additional picks to rebuild, regroup, and finally put some sort of coherent plan together after a disastrous three years under Rhule, who gave away assets like confetti with few positive results.

A new head coach. And in all likelihood, a new quarterback from the college ranks to spearhead a complete culture shift in 2023.

That sounds good, but instant success in this scenario is unlikely at best.

The whole situation is a mess from top to bottom. It all starts with David Tepper’s ownership, which has been an accumulation of misfired decisions, poor acquisitions, and a complete disenchantment with the team’s fanbase for good measure.

Fitterer might not be done wheeling and dealing before the deadline. One or two could be shifted such as Shaq Thompson, who’s owed an extortionate amount on the final year of his deal and would likely welcome a change of scenery onto a contender.

This is the reset many fans wanted. But it could be years before the Panthers are relevant again.

That might sound drastic. However, one cannot dismiss the notion that it won’t become the reality.

Who’s to say Tepper won’t pick the wrong guy again? Who’s to say Fitterer can put all this newfound draft wealth to good use even with the No. 1 overall selection?

Neither has covered themselves in too much glory. And there’s still the small matter of free agency, draft evaluations, and extensions for the likes of Brian Burns and Jeremy Chinn to also factor into the equation.

Panthers fans are tired. Tired of losing, tired of poor mismanagement, and tired of not having a team to believe in.

These moves provide a glimmer of hope that brighter days are coming. Even if there are still 11 games of what’s becoming a lost season left to navigate.

Executing the next part of the plan is of critical importance. The Panthers rapidly descended into the league’s laughing stock under Rhule and this reputation will take some time to fix en route to legitimate contention.

We’ve seen with the New York Giants and New York Jets that it can happen quicker than anticipated. But this all starts with coaching and whether or not Carolina can find the right man to inspire, lead, and finally get this franchise off the canvas.

Fitterer is under enormous pressure from above, one suspects. Considering Tepper was non-commital about the front office figure’s own future recently, it’s hard to say with any great confidence he’ll be around to make the picks he recently secured as part of the Anderson and McCaffrey deals.

In truth, Fitterer deserves a shot at picking his own head coach and forming a close working relationship with long and short-term goals in mind. Tepper isn’t known for his patience and has yet to enjoy a winning season since buying the franchise from Jerry Richardson, but what’s transpired in 2022 should be the biggest wake-up call yet that his interference in football matters isn’t working.

Things will get worse before getting better. All fans can do is hang in there and hope that this is the start of something great.

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