The Kansas City Chiefs continue to retool their roster, releasing right tackle Eric Winston last night, according to reports. It marks an all too growing trend this off-season of players getting released who are ideal fits for a Carolina Panthers' team in need of talent upgrades.
Unless Dave Gettleman can wave a wand and find $10-15 million in cap space, then Winston coming to the Panthers is a pipe dream. There are already sources saying that the Philadelphia Eagles are interested in the 29-year-old tackle, and they wont be the only one. While he's taken steps back from his outstanding early career in Houston, he's still one of the league's top-ten ranked pass-blocking right tackles.
Despite this, Winston would be a band-aid. The goal isn't necessarily to sign Winston, but to find the next Eric Winston through the draft. The third-round pick from 2006 had a lot of the pre-draft concerns we see out of prospects now -- his body type didn't inspire confidence (at 6-7, and just over 300-pounds), he didn't have the foot speed to be a true franchise left tackle, and there were questions about his demeanor.
If you're looking for a player who could have a similar impact at the next level it's San Jose State senior David Quessenberry. While he didn't face the high level of competition that Winston did at Miami, he's a similarly built player who's shown a knack for pass blocking while taking drills at tackle, center, and even guard. Most seem to think the natural fit for Quessenberry is as a developmental left tackle, or a potential left guard. In a conventional offense I'd agree, but Carolina don't have a conventional offense -- or a conventional quarterback.
The strangest thing about Cam Newton is his ability to better handle pass rush from his blind side than head-on. His internal clock is far better at moving away from weak-side pressure, while he tends to be over-confident in his ability to escape pass rushers he can see. This was prevalent throughout his first two seasons, and serves as proof that a pass blocking right tackle is as important as a franchise left tackle to Newton. The answer isn't to coach this confidence out of Newton, but rather play to it. He'll try to make guys miss, and when that works the results are staggering -- but buying him time is the key to make these plays work.
The risk in over-committing to pass protection is seeing the run blocking take a step back. Now we reach the real crux of the issue: What is this team's identity? If they want to be a bruising, run-first team, then finding a right guard, staying the course and continuing to develop Byron Bell is the way to go. Bell is a capable run blocker, but doesn't help in pass protection. However, based on this team's talents -- it's time to rally around Newton and get Eric Winston... well, the next Eric Winston, whoever that is.