As it stands there are few writers on the national stage who understand the Carolina Panthers as well as ESPN.com's NFC South blogger, and former Panthers' beat writer Pat Yasinskas. I had the opportunity to ask Pat some questions about both the Panthers, and the NFC South as a whole and I would like to sincerely thank him for giving his time to us.
Please be sure to read Pat's work over on the NFC South blog found here.
Cat Scratch Reader: Do you think Cam Newton will be the Panthers' starter in 2011?
Pat Yasinskas: Well, a lot is going to depend on the labor situation and if training camp starts on time. If it does, I suspect Newton will be starting on opening day as long as he makes reasonable progress in camp. It's not like the Panthers have a dramatically better alternative and he is the future of their franchise. I think the rest of their offense is good enough that he won't have to carry the team immediately. If camp time is missed, though, Newton might not have enough time to digest the play book and you could see Jimmy Clausen starting for a bit.
More with Pat Y after the jump
CSR: The rest of the NFC South got much better through the draft. Has the gap widened among the teams?
PY: On paper, the other three teams all addressed needs and helped themselves. But I think the Panthers also helped themselves. If Newton turns into the franchise quarterback the Panthers think he is, they'll end up having had the best draft of the division.
CSR: Do you think Steve Smith will be a member of the Carolina Panthers next season?
PY: Again, the timing of the lockout comes into play. I think Steve might want to move on. But the Panthers aren't going to just give him away. They want a pretty good draft pick in return.
CSR: Can fans be reassured the organization will spend money in free agency once there is a new CBA?
PY: Yes, but I don't think you'll see a crazy spending spree in free agency. The Panthers aren't going to abandon their youth movement. They're going to build on it and first try to re-sign some of their own key free agents. You might see them sign a few guys from outside, but I don't think it will be anything big.
CSR: You know the organization a lot better than most. Why do you think the Carolina Panthers have become a butt of so many jokes among most outlets? Is it just the 2-14 season?
PY: As John Fox used to say, it is what it is. I'm not sure who's making fun of the Panthers, but that tends to happen when you go 2-14. For much of their existence, the Panthers have been a model franchise and Jerry Richardson has been considered a top-notch owner. Times have been tough lately, but things can change quickly.
We'll have part two of my interview with Pat Y this afternoon.