It's February 1st and the Super Bowl is upon us. We've had close to a month of offseason but little has been resolved regarding the Panthers offseason priorities and it won't get resolved until the new league year begins. At this point though there remain some clear 'issues' needing resolved regarding the Panthers roster. The issues might require a tough decision by management or they could simply be ignored all together. Here's the top 5 I see right now:
Issue #1: With RB Jonathan Stewart entering the final year of his deal do we offer him a new contract now or wait and see how the 2012 season goes first?
Both options warrant consideration based on the benefit to risk ratio. The risk is having so much $ invested in the RB position that other positions suffer. I can't see how his 2012 performance, whether good or bad, brings any additional leverage to the Panthers short of an injury to Stewart. They certainly wouldn't bank on that scenario. My preference is to go ahead and lock him up since I'm very happy with the double trouble tandem. I'm not positive but I think the Panthers feel the same way give his ability to rush and receive.
Issue #2: What do we offer LB Thomas Davis to return in 2012?
Davis has made it clear he wants to return to Carolina after suffering his third ACL injury in two seasons. The conventional wisdom is the Panthers will bring him back but at a lower salary, much lower I bet. Given the injury history I can't imagine many other teams making a serious run at Davis. The key will be the team medical evaluations in the next couple weeks. I've gotten conflicting reports from 'Davis' rehab is on schedule' to 'He has plateaued in his rehab'. I wouldn't count the guy out but I can't see the Panthers taking a lot of risk in the form of guaranteed salary for Davis. The risk is alienating one of the your team leaders, whether intentional or not, which we have seen how that can turn into a locker room cancer.
Issue #3: Who will be Cam Newton's back-up?
HC Ron Rivera alluded to the fact that the Panthers would prefer the back-up to QB Cam Newton be a player with a similar skill set. That would preclude both current back-ups Derek Anderson and Jimmy Clausen. I fully expect the Panthers to bring in two QBs this offseason to compete for the 3rd spot behind Anderson, if Anderson even stays. These QBs will most likely be fast and come from a read-option type of offense similar to Newton. That means the Panthers will finally have to do something with Jimmy Clausen. An outright release isn't out of the question but I bet they move him for a mid to late round pick in the 2013 draft.
Issue #4: Do they give PR Armanti Edwards one more season?
Edwards has yet to do very much in the punt return game and now is in danger of getting cut in my view. Since he is still under contract I'm sure he will stay on the roster into training camp but I would bet dollars to donuts the Panthers bring in some legitimate competition to return punts. That could be through free agency or the draft with a draft selection being the most likely route.
Issue #5: Do they have adequate insurance behind Jeff Otah?
We saw in 2011 that losing two players at a position like RT can throw the line in disarray, even more when you lose three like the Panthers did on the right side of their line. Will Otah's knee be ready? Will he stay healthy? Can he return to top form? This one again hinges on medical reports but I think all the latest news is Otah is ready to go. My bet is the Panthers add another draft pick to this group do nothing else and wait see how training camp goes.
What other significant issues do you see?