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With the season for the Panthers coming to an end, we will being to shift our focus to the next season. Like last year, the team came on strong toward the end and looks poised to make the next step. But for the long term, there are some serious questions we'll have to answer at some point and we'll take a look at ways to set this team up for the future, position by position. First up we'll look at the offense. Later on this week, we'll take a look into the defense.
Probably the easiest distinction of all, quarterback is without a doubt the one place where we have no questions whatsoever about. This is Cam Newton's team and as he goes so will the team go. The fact of the matter is that we don't need to upgrade our talent here. Cam has the abilities to play excellently at times, but we shouldn't need to rely on him every game to play perfect. The rest of the team needs to get better around him. (Kinda the focus of this whole post there.)
Ya know... Despite what we may think about the troubles with the cap and all the issues it may bring, the future isn't nearly as bleak as we might think. In 2013, Stewart will only cost us a caphit of $2.8 million and as a whole, Double Trouble's services are only $11 million to retain. It's high, sure, but not nearly as astronomical as I thought initially. The last year of DeAngelo's contact is the real issue. In 2015, it will cost us $18.4 million for both of our star backs. Yikes... In all likelihood, Williams won't see that money and his contract will be restructured, especially if these numbers from last season become the norm.
That's really the problem. Unless we start running 90+ plays per game, there simply aren't enough balls going around to justify spending this much money on two players who are only going to combine for 1,000 yards. Even if we managed to get 1400 yards out of them both, it's still a lot of money for not a lot of production. It's not something we need to deal with immediately, thanks to Stewart's remarkably low cap figure next season. However, in 2014 and 2015 we'll either need to restructure their contracts or consider letting go of our Double Trouble tandem.
Okay, this is just a mess... We have a lot of questions and not a lot of answers. Firstly, LT Jordan Gross is getting old and he's really much better suited to finishing up the twilight years of his career at RT instead of LT, which has honestly been the case for the entirety of his career. Remember way back when we thought we might be able to move him back to RT? Been a while huh..? That entire plan got a wrench thrown into it by the utter failure that was Jeff Otah. Additionally, Gross is right now the 4th highest paid tackle in the league and only under contract for 2 more years. Simply put, we must address the tackle position within the next 2 years or we will not be able to protect Cam's blind side.
More issues are abound though. Who is going to start at RG and RT? Well, right now Byron Bell is our right tackle. He's serviceable, and that's about all I can say really. He's not Gary Williams, so that's a plus, but he could definitely be upgraded. There is a chance we could target a tackle with our first round pick. Joeckel will probably go in the top 5, but his teammate Jake Matthews or Michigan's Taylor Lewan might be available. Chances are though, we will use that pick to shore up DT though, leaving this position in limbo. As for RG, Geoff Hangartner figures to play there again but he's another aging veteran in the twilight of his career. It's yet another position we should really address sooner rather than later. At least our Center is looked up for the long haul, even if he's the highest paid center in the league and one of only 3 Cs making more than $5 million a year.
Good news, everyone! We found a capable and incredibly reliable WR in Brandon LaFell. Bad news, everyone! We're still relying far too much on Steve Smith. In this case we have could easily address this problem if we had the capspace to spare. There are plenty of exceptionally talented WR FAs this offseason including Greg Jennings who will likely be the most sought after of them all as there is nothing Green Bay needs less than another WR; their offense was potent enough with Jennings sidelined for almost the entire year.
Other options include drafting another WR in the next year or two (psst, DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins make a good pair I hear). From what I hear from his teammates, Hopkins is likely to enter the draft this year. Shameless college plugs aside, we could also continue to groom the likes of Louis Murphy, Armanti Edwards, and Joe Adams in the hopes that they will develop as LaFell has over the last two years. But let's not kid ourselves here... If Steve Smith decided to hang his cleats up tomorrow there would be no one on the team ready to make the leap to take his place. Problem is that we have have bigger fish to fry (Tackle, Safety, Cornerback, etc).
Second easiest position to address. Greg Olsen has been a solid acquisition from the Bears ever since he came here and was 2nd on the Panthers in terms of receiving yards. He was worth ever bit of the 3rd round pick we spent to get him. We do have a small issue here though, which is that we don't exactly have the ability to run the 2-TE offense from last year. That in and of itself had a bigger effect on our offense than anyone realized and if there is one knock on Olsen its that his blocking isn't quite as good as it could be. There's also no telling what we'll be doing with regards to our two other TEs. Both Gary Barnidge and Ben Hartsock are free agents this off-season.
What will we do? I doubt we resign both of our TEs. However, it's possible we might resign one of them. Then again, we could let both go in free agency. That would leave us drafting two tight ends or picking them up in free agency. My guess is we'll resign Barnidge and draft another TE this year.
Okay, so this is really special teams, but it seemed appropriate to put here... Suffice to say that my opinion on acquiring Graham Gano was simply a stopgap measure after we cut Justin Medlock because well... you've gotta have a kicker and he was available. There were no games lost because of Gano's misses, but he did miss two in the last two games of the season, as well as the extra point in his first game as a Panther. It's really a shame that this position, which was by far the most reliable over almost the entire Panthers existence, has become so clouded. And I actually have no idea where the Panthers will decide to go after this season. We could look to draft someone or bring in a UDFA. My shameless college plug would be for Chandler Catanzaro out of Clemson, but--hey! Don't give me that look. It's my school and this is my article! I'll plug whoever I want!!
In all honesty though, Gano was serviceable, but I wouldn't say his job is safe by a longshot. We'll probably bring in some "competition" during training camp but I guess when push comes to shove I expect Gano will be the guy in 2013.
Next up, we'll start tackling the issues on defense. Cornerback, Safety, Defensive Tackle, and Linebacker should all be interesting to talk about!