See this guy? He's the face of your defense now. Get used to it! (I know I am...) - Streeter Lecka
Last week, we looked at the offense... Now we're going to take a good, long look at how things stack up on the defense. We have a very constrained amount of cap space to work with and a lot of very important decisions to consider.
Let me start off by saying that, despite our extreme lack of talent across the board... We finished with a top 10 defense. Shocking huh? The problem with our defense isn't easy to spot. We look like a team that had great performances on paper, but... well that's why we call it a paper tiger. Consistency was our issue and to correct that we need more talent. How we're going to acquire that talent is really outside of the scope of this article, but suffice to say that the need does exist.
This area of strength is actually a liability for the Panthers. The emergence of Luke Kuechly as a dominate MLB and NFL leading tackler has really created a bit of an issue for us. I'm actually going to admit that I think Kuechly is a better MLB than even Jon Beason was for us when he filled in for Dan Morgan (much like Kuechly has done for Beason). He is certainly a much better MLB than he is an OLB and for this reason alone, moving Kuechly back outside would be foolish. So then what are we going to do with Jon Beason?
Well, we can't cut him. It would cost us slightly more to cut him than it would to just let him play for us next year (the difference is $600,000). So for now, we're stuck in a situation with Beason that's a little unfortunate. If we aren't going to cut him, how about moving him to the outside? Well, that has other problems... Namely Thomas Davis. His outstanding play makes moving Beason to the outside, which is not Beason's strongest position, more difficult. You could consider moving Beason to the strong side, but then you have to contend with what to do with James Anderson. Maybe that's the right way to go. Maybe we should just try to trade Beason. I don't know what the answer is going to be, but the LB situation is murky at best. The only thing I'm in favor of really is keeping Kuechly and Davis entrenched in their current positions.
I'm going to group the DTs and DEs together for one simplicity. Mostly we'll be talking about the DTs anyway... Why you ask? Well, our DE situation is pretty set. For the first time since 2002, we have two legitimate double-digit end rushers on the outside. Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy need only one thing: a pair of new defensive tackles. On that front, we're looking at the weakest part of our defense. Without a solid set of DTs to close down gaps and get a push off the line, our ability to stop rushers is paltry at best.
I'm just going to come out and say it... This is probably going to be a draft priority. We don't have the capspace to sign a top-end free agent and we've tried plugging in these second and third-rate players as a "stop gap" measure for the last 4 years. It hasn't worked yet and it's not going to start. On top of that, our drafting in this area has been miserable. Dwan Edwards is good at getting penetration but is something of a liability in the run game. Ron Edwards won't be around in all likelihood and after that we have a myriad of the "who's that guy" to round out the rest of the ranks. Simply put, we can't keep letting this be a weakness forever.
Due to the complications with our cap issues, we may end up having to part with our best cornerback, Chris Gamble. It's similar to a situation when we parted ways with Ken Lucas a few years back. The problem is that then we had a young promising CB in Richard Marshall, who ended up not sticking around after being annoyed with his 3rd round tender in 2009. Then we drafted Brandon Hogan, who never recovered from his injury issues. Then we picked up Josh Norman last year in the draft and supplemented that with some waiver claim talent...
Suffice to say that this issue isn't exactly a good thing. Our inability to correct problems elsewhere over the years has finally caught up with a position that has always been average, but never outstanding and now is in shambles. However, the relative strength of our finishing last year coupled with the fact that our players are all rather young across the secondary may lead to us simply going forward with what we have, but there are still issues with that... Captain Munnerlyn is going to be a free-agent, which would leave us a little thin at CB. We'll probably look to add some depth in the draft at this position at the very least.
I'm getting kinda depressed... Every one of the major classification of players has some kind of issue on defense. Safety is no different. Sherrod Martin is set to become a FA this year, which means we're going to be stuck with Charles Godfrey, which isn't so bad, and Haruki Nakamura.. who is more of a liability than an asset. I don't mind going forward with Godfrey, but putting Nakamura back there again would be asking teams to abuse us with the deep passes again and again. That's just not going to work. This would be another area that I would normally think we'd address in the draft, but with all the other issues on the table right now, that's just not really possible. I don't know what we're going to do with this position. I just know that when you're actually trying to convince yourself to keep Sherrod Martin around, things are in bad shape.
Special Teams Bonus: Punter
Brad Nortman was one of the worst punters in the league last year. "But he pins them in the 20 all the time!" No, he doesn't. He was shit at that too. 29th overall in both categories and was tied for the 6th most in touch backs. That is all. See an upcoming rant from BW in the comments section about this one. Scrap him, find another one, get a drunken monkey, or say screw it and just go for every 4th down. I don't care, I just don't want this kid putting up these numbers again.
I hope you enjoyed this series. It'll be interesting as we go forward and see how the situation continues to develop. Gettleman has a lot of issues on his plate to deal with. I hope he came hungry.