by Mario Granata
Going from a 15-1 record to 6-10 usually gets head coaches fired in the NFL. However, Riverboat Ron was able to keep his head above water, which is certainly a make-or-break year for him. How did the Panthers fall so far so fast? The easy explanation would be that their offense scored 8 less points a game, and their defense gave up 6 more points. But even then, you would think that a team who was so good should at least be 8-8, right? While schedule does play a part in a team’s turnaround, execution in crucial situations was the Panthers undoing in 2016.
Head Coach: Ron Rivera
Career Record: 125-99
Offensive Coordinator (Rank): Mike Shula
19th YPG, 21st Pass, 10th Run
Defensive Coordinator (Rank): Sean McDermott (New: Steve Wilks)
21st YPG, 29th Pass, 6th Rush
Synopsis: The Panthers dropped from 6th in YPG against the pass to 21st and a big reason was the departure of Josh Norman. While one player doesn’t make a defense, Norman brought physicality to the Sean McDermott defense that just wasn’t there in 2016 and which eventually led to the downfall of Carolina. Ask Julio Jones what he thinks of the Panthers secondary without Norman. Because they struggled stopping teams offensively, that often made the reigning MVP Cam Newton a one-dimensional player.
Carolina is currently 16 million under the cap and with the signing of various players and especially tagging Kawann Short for 13 million dollars. If another player happens to open up in free agency (unlikely at this point) the Panthers could cut bait with Short, but with Carolina trading Kony Ealy to the New England Patriots he is going to be a Panther…for now.
While Carolina doesn’t need to hit the panic button this season as far as reginings go, next season, they will have 43 players coming up for free agency that are currently on the roster. Now, while some of those players are not part of the 51 players that count against the cap, names like Kelvin Benjamin (5th-year option exercised), Star Lotulelei, Short, Julius Peppers and Thomas Davis are all up for their contracts in 2018. More than likely Peppers and Davis might be done altogether, the other 3 players are vital to the success of the Panthers.
According to the pundits and “experts” the Panthers are all over the board in their draft preview. The top three names to make the short list are Takkarist McKinley, DE, UCLA, Dalvin Cook, RB, FSU, and Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU. It puzzles me that an offensive player, especially a running back would be the target for the Panthers with the 8th overall pick. Carolina has signed Jonathan Stewart to a one-year deal, and there are 81 running backs that are going to be free agents when the 2018 off-season hits. While most of those 81 names are not “big name” running backs, there are some very serviceable players in the bunch.
The focus for the Panthers at #8 would be either quality or quantity. There are going to be a few teams that will want to trade back into the Top-10, and with the Panthers already acquiring an additional 2nd round pick from the Patriots, they are in a great position to load up with some players to plug some holes on rookie contracts.
If you agree that Josh Norman was a main reason why the Panthers weren’t as successful in 2016, then you can pretty much book that they will do something to sure up that secondary. Marshawn Lattomore, CB, Ohio State and Jamal Adams, S, LSU jump off the page as to be key players who can sure up that secondary that has to contend with Jameis Winston, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan.
The Panthers signed or resigned four defensive ends this off-season. Let that sink in for a minute. Mario Addison, Charles Johnson, Julius Peppers and Wes Horton were all signed to contracts. Now, unless football teams are allowed to play with 13 players on defense, this doesn’t make sense. Peppers is in the twilight of his career, but has been the Brett Favre of defensive players when it comes to durability. This could be the alternate route that Rivera and newly appointed Defensive Coordinator Steve Wilks are taking. Cycle ends in to keep them fresh so they can take down opposing quarterbacks to cover for the secondary’s inadequacies.
As mentioned earlier, Kawann Short did receive the franchise tag, and yes Ealy was traded, however that doesn’t mean that Short is guaranteed a roster spot. With all these signings, and Lotulelei coming up for contract next year, Short will have to have one of the best seasons of his career or he will be looking for a new team in 2018.
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