The Panthers Appear To Be Three Players Away From Contending

Three players from having the best roster in football? Nope. 3 players from a Super Bowl? Nope, as even having the best roster in football does not necessarily guarantee a Super Bowl or even making the conference title game necessarily (as Houston Texans, Baltimore Ravens, San Francisco 49ers etc. fans can attest). But they are 3 players away from being a legit Super Bowl contender. It won't make them a team without holes, but they would lack the easily exploitable flaws that the Saints (and before them the Seahawks though it was a much closer game) so expertly attacked.

1. LCB: this has two benefits. Getting a good player at the most important position in the secondary and moving Captain Munnerlyn into the slot, where he is actually a good player. (I realize that Munnerlyn is signed to a one year contract. Looking at both his performance this season and the rest of Carolina's secondary, bringing him back on another cheap deal is in the best interests of both parties. The Panthers cannot afford a rehaul of their entire secondary, which would take a lot of money and/or multiple draft picks, and Munnerlyn is not likely to get more money or a shot at more playing time elsewhere.) I do not have a problem with listing this as the Panthers' biggest need because Ron Rivera is a defensive coach, so getting the best players on this side of the ball is what will give the Panthers the best chance to win.

2. WR: again multiple benefits. It allows Smitty to move to the slot and it gets more production out of Brandon LaFell (presuming similar to Munnerlyn that LaFell would get more money and playing time in Carolina than elsewhere, even if some do believe that LaFell would be more productive with a different QB and in a different scheme). Technically, in terms of quality of personnel, OL is a bigger need than WR. But WR is #2 on the list because at present the Panthers have absolutely no TE but Olsen that is capable of entering a game and catching a pass. I actually am in favor of acquiring a second big time TE like Eric Ebron or Trey Burton and going with a 2 TE offense, and that approach would also be in line with the "Newton is a big-armed QB who tends to throw passes a bit high and needs big targets" line of thinking (which I do not subscribe to but who cares), and that is also attractive because you can get a good receiving TE that isn't much of a blocker in the 3rd round (where the Redskins got Jordan Reed, who has 44 catches for 500 yards and this is with missing several games due to injury), allowing the Panthers to go CB and OT in the first 2 rounds, but there is no evidence that Rivera and Shula would ever go with a 2 TE formation. So, WR is such a big need because if anything ever happens to Olsen for any length of time, the Panthers' passing game and offense are dead in the water because there are no backup receiving TEs on the roster.

3. OT: in reality getting a guy who can replace Byron Bell immediately and can replace Jordan Gross down the line (like Tennessee OT Antonio Richardson maybe?) is the Panthers' single biggest personnel need because it would also stabilize the RG position (perhaps even moving Bell there is an option? No? nevermind) as well as actually getting consistent production from the running game, which helps the passing game. But Rivera being a defensive coach makes CB #1, being so thin at TE makes WR #2 and you get the picture. Because the Panthers have the coach, QB and offense that they do, of course run-blocking is a bigger priority for the new OT than pass-blocking, though of course the pass-blocking skills can be at least adequate.

The bad news: the Panthers do not have multiple picks in the first 2 rounds, and they won't be drafting in the first half of the order. And the salary cap is a mess.

The good news: the Panthers finally do have all picks in the first 4 rounds, and this appears to be a deep draft at certain positions, meaning that there will both be good players available where there is some depth (WR, OL) and teams grabbing those players will cause guys at other positions to slide down the board (like at CB).

More good news: as Greg Hardy does not appear to be be on his way to a consecutive double digit sack season and at times has been almost completely anonymous (such as the games that Charles Johnson was not present on the other side as well as the blowout loss to New Orleans) that may free up some salary cap room to fill at least once of these needs in free agency (I prefer a mid-level free agent WR coming off his first contract like Golden Tate or Eric Decker, others might prefer the same type of player at OT like Rodger Saffold or Zane Beadles) as right now it looks like even the 4 year $32 million deal that Hardy rejected already would be difficult to justify.

That's it. 3 players and several draft picks and free agency moves to get them. Some of it will be by necessity incidentally, as lots of the guys currently at these positions will be unrestricted free agents this offseason (Byron Bell at RT, Brandon LaFell/Ted Ginn Jr/Domenik Hixon at WR, Munnerlyn/Florence/Mikell in the secondary. So, since these 3 needs pretty much dovetail with what is going to be happening in free agency, we should have a pretty good idea of Gettleman's plans to address them early in the offseason.

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