In an interview this afternoon with Pro Football Talk found here, Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said that the Panthers will use the franchise tag, but gave no indication on who it would be applied to. When asked Rivera said they were 'evaluating that'. He made it clear that there were several candidates, and only one tag.
We know the likely players in this scenario: DeAngelo Williams, Charles Johnson and Ryan Kalil. What remains to be seen is whether the 10,000 lb elephant in the room, DeAngelo Williams is really part of Rivera's future plans for the franchise given the amount he would command long term and his age. It's my belief that if Williams is franchised it actually portends to Williams not being here long term, rather than being here. I believe that whoever is franchised could be a one year fill, or shopped while the other two players are long term signings.
Other than the franchise tag perhaps the most interesting things said by Rivera were those related to the QB position and Steve Smith, we'll talk about that after the jump.
There's one phrase which Rivera keeps mentioning over and over again when it comes to the quarterback position: 'a franchise player'. While he did say they liked what they had at the position, he was also quick to mention that they need to find that franchise guy and didn't currently have that. Rivera said the Panthers will explore every option through the draft, free agency and via trade. When pressed on whether the Panthers would consider drafting a QB Rivera said that it was a possibility, and that nothing was set in stone.
On the topic of the draft Rivera parroted Marty Hurney in saying he was looking for an 'impact guy' again, when pressed whether this meant filling an immediate need or a project down the line he said that it could either mean a player who can make an impact right away, or someone who can develop into being an impact player. He was quick to mention that the Panthers are looking to fill a 'dire need' with the #1 overall pick both now, and down the road. They want someone who will be there for 10+ years.
Personally, I think the ball is in Clausen's court and he needs to step up right now. As I hear Rivera speak on the position it doesn't scream patience to me. I think that unless Clausen does enough before March 4th, or has done enough to convince the coaching staff already that he can be a franchise QB, I don't think he'll get a season's benefit of the doubt to prove himself.
On Steve Smith I'm still of the belief that Rivera isn't optimistic that he and Smitty will gel enough to forge a long term bond. He reiterated that Smith is part of the evaluation process to see if he is part of the situation that 'suits them best'. Time will tell, and there's nothing really new on this front- but it didn't seem like things have gotten better between Smith and the Panthers.