C.J. Henderson enters 2023 under a cloud after Carolina Panthers decision

C.J. Henderson
C.J. Henderson / Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

After the Carolina Panthers didn't pick up his fifth-year option as expected, C.J. Henderson enters the 2023 campaign under a significant cloud. 

Now that the 2023 NFL Draft has formally concluded, the Carolina Panthers can begin focusing more on figures already on the books. Some important upcoming decisions await those in power, which began by triggering defensive tackle Derrick Brown's fifth-year option on Monday.

This was an absolute no-brainer considering how Brown's production took a major leap forward in 2022. However, the Panthers also declined the option surrounding cornerback C.J. Henderson - a move that didn't raise many eyebrows all things considered.

The Panthers took a chance on Henderson fulfilling his promise after striking a trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars. It cost them a third-round selection and tight end Dan Arnold, but the potential rewards could have been substantial if the former Florida star finally put everything together.

C.J. Henderson fighting for his Carolina Panthers' future

Henderson's talent was there for all to see in college. But for some reason, the 2020 first-round selection just hasn't met some high expectations at the next level. 

Some have questioned Henderson's love for football. The player has flashed moments of genuine promise, but consistency is a significant issue and reared its ugly head again with a torrid showing in Carolina's divisional title decider at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

It doesn't look good for Henderson, there's no getting away from that. However, all hope is not lost just yet. 

There's a chance for Henderson to make his presence felt more effectively within Ejiro Evero's creative 3-4 base scheme. The Panthers resisted the temptation to spend big on their cornerback room this offseason, which might indicate confidence remains in their current options. 

Henderson should also have a real sense of urgency in a contract year. Anything less than notable improvement is likely to come with being shown the door, so his long-term aspirations are hanging in the balance after the Panthers made the right choice. 

After coming into the league with shutdown potential, this couldn't be more disappointing from Henderson's point of view. And make no mistake, we'll find out plenty about the player's resolve and character in the weeks and months ahead. 

While the chances of Henderson ever reaching his pre-draft billing appear slim, hopes of a rotational role or perhaps even a starting spot couldn't be dismissed entirely. But it's going to take a monumental turnaround to begin convincing people after an inconsistent start to his professional career. 

Will it work out for Henderson? Only time will tell on that front. 

It won't take too long to find out given Carolina's exceptional coaching staff. If Henderson cannot make strides under this caliber of staff, he never will. 

Not picking up Henderson's option was the only call those in power could make. It raises the stakes for the defensive back, who is en route to becoming one of the biggest draft busts in recent memory if his current career trend continues next season. 

Hopefully, Henderson will take this positively and work hard throughout the offseason. He couldn't have expected anything else in the circumstances, so impressing a fresh set of coaching eyes is the only way he can start salvaging his career prospects. 

The athletic attributes are evident. And who knows, maybe Evero and his team can be the ones who finally ignite the spark under Henderson that's been sorely missing. 

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