The Panthers will not be affected in 2010 if coach John Fox returns for the final year of his deal, without a contract extension. At least that's what the players say. Several Panthers, speaking from the locker room Wednesday afternoon, said playing for a coach in the final year of his deal would not impact how they perform.
The situation with Fox, whom management has asked to return in 2010 without an extension, was one of many offseason issues players discussed. The Panthers have proven that they can compete with good NFC teams in the last two weeks, rendering Sunday's game against the visiting Saints a secondary issue. Instead the impending offseason was the topic du jour:
Management's decision to ask Fox back (as opposed to firing him) is "great for us," defensive tackle Damione Lewis says. When asked if the players want him back, he replied, "Yes. Definitely...The guys around the (locker) room really like him."
When asked if he would prefer Fox return with a contract extension, Lewis replied, "We've just got to take it as it comes. We have no control."
If Fox opts not to accept the Panthers' offer to return, "he's not going to have a problem finding a (new) job," Lewis added. "He's one of the premier coaches."
Quarterback Matt Moore also talked about playing for a coach in the final year of his deal. "I have no idea about any of that situation," Moore says. "It doesn't seem to matter to me."
Center Ryan Kalil's take: "I don't think guys think about that stuff."
Linebacker Nail Diggs agrees. "It doesn't matter. I don't care," he says. "It doesn't mean anything to a player. It's like having a player in the last year of his deal."
Experts, including other NFL players, have said that it's more difficult for a coach in the final year of his contract to keep players accountable to him. If they get in a disagreement, the player is less likely to follow orders because he thinks the coach won't be around in the future. For an example see Redskins, Washington, 2009.
But receiver Muhsin Muhammad said he would not look at a coach differently just because he is in the last year of his deal. "Fox has done a good job," Muhammad says. He also advocated for Fox to return. "Coaching changes are not necessarily good things in this league."
Do you think the players really would not be distracted by playing for a lame-duck Fox? Do you believe they are being honest? It's hard to tell. But for a preview of how a team plays in key games under a coach in the final year of his deal, watch the Dallas Cowboys over the next two -- or more? -- weeks. ...
--Muhammad spoke about whether he will be back with the Panthers next season. He has not had "any communication" with the club about a contract for next season, he says, and he intends to continue playing in the NFL after this season. "This will not be my last game (Sunday). I don't know if it will be my last game as a Panther," he says. "I would love to stay."
--Linebacker Thomas Davis, a free agent after the season, was also cryptic. "We haven't been talking about (a new contract)," said Davis, who has been out since early November with an injury.
--Moore said he does not expect to be named the Panthers' clear-cut starter at quarterback heading into 2010. "There's always going to be competition," he says. ...
--On another note, Moore was one of a few players who credited receiver Steve Smith for catching a touchdown pass against the Giants last Sunday -- and breaking his arm in the process. Smith was drilled by a Giants defensive back as he caught the ball.
"The sound (of the hit) alone was unbelievable, and for him to hang on," Moore said, "That's why he's one of the best. It's amazing what he did after getting hit like that."
When Muhammad saw Smith's arm dangling, "I was a little grossed out," he said. ...
--Sunday's game against New Orleans is important for at least one reason, Diggs and Muhammad say: Momentum. Diggs said losing their final game last season, especially a postseason game they were favored to win, haunted the Panthers at the beginning of this season. "We were salty for six months after the Arizona Cardinals game last year," Diggs said Wednesday.
But winning the last two games has created momentum the Panthers can carry into 2010, he added, and beating the Saints would only augment that momentum.