This season has become a disaster for the Carolina Panthers, but you already know that. Wild expectations, paired with poor coaching, bad execution, and abundant injuries has left the organization in its second lame-duck season in three years. It's a matter of 'if' not 'when' Ron Rivera is gone, so the Panthers will attempt another rebuild-- this time with a new general manager, and hopefully some fresh thinking. Yesterday's games shook up the top of the draft order, and now Carolina find themselves within striking distance of the #1 overall pick. How should fans feel about losing now, if it means bigger gains down the line?
Yesterday afternoon two things happened; firstly, the Cleveland Browns took advantage of a Pittsburgh Steelers team relying on Charlie Batch to pick up their third win of the season, while in Jacksonville, the Jaguars took out a Tennessee Titans team lacking an identity, also to pick up their second win. With tonight's game in hand, the Carolina Panthers are in sole possession of the #2 overall pick, relying on Jacksonville's strength of schedule being slightly better to stave them off. A loss to Philadelphia would solidify the #2 spot, making next week's game against the Kansas City Chiefs critical-- a win would guarantee KC picks first, a loss would throw the #1 pick up in the air.
In the NFL no team tanks, so we can put that notion to bed. Suggestions crop up every year, but in a league with coach and player turnover this high, nobody is looking to jeopardize their future for a draft pick.
Should the Panthers win tonight against a beleaguered Eagles team, they fall to 6th. Win again the next? There's a chance Carolina could fall to 13th. Given that they face the Chiefs this is wholly possible, and a little scary. Would a 4-12 season make you feel much better than a 2-14 one? Would two more wins against two bad teams give Cam Newton confidence, justify Ron Rivera as a head coach, or prove that wholesale changes aren't needed inside the organization?
The top-end talent the Panthers have is either aging, injured, or both. There aren't many young stars on this football team, largely due to terrible drafting under Marty Hurney's watch from 2009-2011. Yes, there's Cam Newton-- he's a constant, but when you get past Luke Kuechly, Charles Johnson, Jonathan Stewart, and Greg Olsen there aren't many excellent players on the better side of thirty.
When the Panthers last imploded, Cam Newton was the result. Would you rather have Marcell Dareus right now and a 4-12 record from 2010? I didn't think so. If the difference for the Panthers is finding a future left tackle like Luke Joeckel, or getting a stud defensive tackle like Star Lotuleilei, versus having a few moral victories in exchange for lesser talent, is it really worth it?
I ran a wholly unscientific, but interesting poll on Twitter to get a sense of where fans lie, and the result was 60/40 in favor of getting the better draft pick-- even if it meant losing out. I want to hear from you, what do you think is more important to the long-term future of the Panthers?