We've all read recently about how Jerry Richardson is the least optimistic about the NFL owners and the NFLPA reaching an agreement and getting a CBA in place before the March 4th deadline. The question now becomes, "When does JR think the CBA will be signed?"
There's been alot of postulation about ways to fix the Carolina Panthers. The biggest quick fix on everyones mind is through getting quality players in this years draft and bringing in quality Free Agents. But what happens if the CBA isn't signed before the April 28th draft? There won't be a free agency period, which normally occurs from March 4 through Mid April each year. The Panthers won't have the luxury of knowing which holes they filled on the team before it's time to take the podium. Does JR think a CBA will be signed by June 1?; allowing an abbreviated FA period? Does JR think a CBA will be signed by Labor day?; with no FA period at all.
This can dramatically affect how the Panthers approach the draft and how they evaluate the players on the short list for the #1 and subsequent picks.
So, let's take a look at what this could mean for the Carolina Panthers.
There are multiple areas of concern for a 2-14 team. Most notable are the DT, QB, CB, WR and TE positions, with emphasis on DT, QB, and CB. With the #1 pick in the 2011 draft, the Panthers have the ability to fix one of the five of those holes with a high quality player. But which will it be?
You have to assume that if Richardson feels there will be no CBA in place before the draft, he's instructed Hurney and Rivera et. al, to evaluate DT, QB and CB to determine which position they feel has the best talent and would give the Panthers the best chance to win in 2011 if there are no free agents added to the roster, and who will also have the most impact for the Panthers over their careers, as Hurney/Rivera said they were looking for an impact player at an impact position with the #1 overall pick.
Let's take a fans perspective look at the three positions, and see if we can see things through Ron Rivera and Marty Hurneys eyes.
With the 23rd ranked run D in the league, and only 4 sacks from the DT position (3 from Landri), with very little pressure from the interior on pass downs, the DT position is a concern not from attritiion, but from a lack of production. With the addition of new DC, McDermott, we can expect alot more stunting from the interior line, which should automatically increase penetration. Coach Rivera, when asked about what he forsees from the defensive line, he stated "we will play the run on the way to the quarterback". He's also stated he's intrigued by Ed Johnson, a DT who got minimal playing time in 2010, and add in the late season production of Andrew Neblett, you have to think, while not having any stellar names, Rivera feels he can work with what's there, at least in the short term.
Possible additions: Nick Fairley, Marcel Dareus
Either of these players would be an improvement over the current roster, simply based on what scouts perceive as each players strengths and what we saw from the roster last year. Dareus offers a better combination of talents that Rivera and McDermott are looking for, in the fact he can play a 1, 3 or 5 technique, and fits better in the 4-3/3-4 multiple look defense Rivera wants to run. Fairley offers perhaps the best pass rushing ability in the draft from the DT spot and would fit in with Rivera's philosophy of playing the run secondary to rushing the passer. Both are intriguing from the #1 spot. This is however, a very deep class of DT's, and there are several guys in the later rounds that can have an impact as well.
We all know the struggles Clausen had in 2010. The leagues worst QB Rating, worst TD/INT ratio, worst YPA, worst W/L percentage, and 2nd worst completion percentage among multiple game starting QB's. He also had a propensity for throwing the ball away or checking down to TE's and RB's when there was still opportunity to make a play down the field, and many perceived his play as showing signs for being scared and/or way too tentative. Even for a rookie, these are not the kind of stats and demeanors you'd want from a QB. John Fox, Jeff Davidson and Rip Scherer took alot heat from fans, but objectively, Davidson called the same plays, with basically the same frequency that every other OC in the NFL calls, the problem was execution, mainly from the QB position, and that includes Matt Moore as well. All it takes is an objective look at the offensive scheme and to look at the schemes of other teams to see this is true, but regardless, as a rookie Clausen can be given a partial pass for the season, but only partial, his play wasn't even serviceable. Clausen was a 2nd round pick in 2010, albeit from the 48th spot, it was still the first pick in the draft for the Panthers last year. How much will that influence Hurney when it comes to what player/position to take in this year's draft.? Tony Pike, another rookie QB, was passed over for Mr. Mom, Brian St. Pierre, when both Moore and Clausen were out due to injury, so that doesn't bode well for his NFL future. Rivera has also stated he wants his offense to "attack vertically", neither QB on the roster have the arms to be effective in a vertical offense, because both were just in one, and performed horribly. Both Hurney and Rivera have repeatedly said they need to find a franchise QB, which seems to imply that one isn't on the current roster.
Possible additions: Blaine Gabbert, Cam Newton
Both of these players would be improvements over the current roster, even while being deemed "project" QB's. Both are very athletic and have exceptional arm strength. Gabbert fits the mold of a modern NFL QB more so than Newton. Gabbert came from a spread offense, but not the one read, option spread most college programs are running. He has the ability to make multiple reads and the arm strength to run a vertical passing attack, along with the athleticism to make plays with his feet. Newton would be the best, if not very, very close to the best pure athlete at QB in the NFL. His ability to make plays in the running game, coupled with exceptional arm strength would make him a viable impact player for years to come with proper coaching, experience and repetitions. There are also a couple of other short term upgrade QB's that could be taken later in the draft as well, but none that could take a franchise to the next level for the long term.
With the Panthers advising Richard Marshalls' agent that his services will no longer be needed, the Panthers still find themselves in the best situation of the big 3 positions in terms of personnel. Munnerlyn, though short, has played well and improved each and every week. McClain showed flashes of good play as well. With one of the better DB coaches in Ron Meeks, he can coach up these guys enough to get by with addressing the position in the later rounds.
Possible additions: Patrick Peterson, Prince Amakamura
Both would be excellent additions to the roster and would potentially provide the ability to shut down one side of the field, while Gamble shuts down the other. This is still up in the air at this point however, as McDermott is a proponent of the Fire Zone, which will not need the services of a shutdown corner as much as other schemes. Peterson would also add a dynamic presence in the return game. But would you really want your #1 pick subjected to injury in the return game? While both these guys would be better suited to a Cover 0 or Cover 1 schemed team, they still have the athleticism to be quality players for the Panthers.
Also another thing to remember in all this is the fact that the Panthers want to take an impact player at an impact position. My views on impact position and how they rank goes thusly:
QB, RB, DE, LT, WR, CB, LB, DT, RT, FS, SS, C, OG
What all this means is that if there is no Free Agency in 2011, and the Panthers want to take an impact player in an impact position, the list of possible #1 picks dwindles to the QB position. You'd have to think Rivera would be much more comfortable going into the 2011 season with the current DT's and CB's than he would with the current QB's.
So then there were two: Blaine Gabbert and Cam Newton
Just something to think about if there is no Free Agency.