2013 NFL free agency: Sometimes the answer is on the roster, or is it?

Lance King

Dave Gettleman has preached patience when looking at the Carolina Panthers' team needs, but is this approach more smoke than substance?

Despite a successful draft, the Carolina Panthers still have myriad needs left unfilled. The teams' general manager has offered a quick, but catchy line -- rather than a complex solution. Is 'the answer' really on the roster to fill these needs, or is it a snow job to buy time?

Dave Gettleman's task was two-fold upon arriving in Carolina. Firstly, he needed turn the Panthers into a playoff team. Secondly (and perhaps more importantly) return faith to a disillusioned fan base. Weary of sub-500 seasons, mounting injuries, and a lack of splash in free agency -- Gettleman didn't have the ability to quickly turn around any of these problems.

Winning would need to come in time, and while that is the ultimate cure to both ills -- it's easier said than done. Injuries are a wild card. There's no predicting or mitigating them. The amount of injuries the Panthers have sustained in the last 24 months is so mind-boggling that possible answers are be divined from the most random of places -- ranging from the grass on Bank of America Stadium, to Ryan Vermillion's ability as a trainer. The sad answer is that crap happens, and the Panthers have needed their fair share of kitty litter.

The final issue, free agency, is married to the team's needs. The mantra of the Panthers has long-been to 'build through the draft', but a lack of available cap space has turned that ideal sour. It became the only way to add to the team, and when that happens you see teams reach for needs, rather than draft soundly (does Everette Brown ring any bells?). In a perfect world, Carolina would be able to dabble again in 2014 -- in reality it will likely be 2016 before they're really able to make any big-name moves.

In saying 'sometimes the answers are already on the roster' Dave Gettleman forged the perfect union of sound football logic, and genius PR. This was a time where fans needed a steadying force to guide the ship, and someone to warm some milk -- telling us everything would be okay. This is what he did. No other prospective GM could have done this, it had to be Gettleman. Why? Because hearing it from and up-and-coming executive carries no weight, it holds as much importance as Ron Rivera saying the defensive tackles were fine prior to the 2012 season. With 30-years of executive experience, Gettleman was the only man who could be preceded by his reputation as a 'film hound', say the roster was almost complete, and we'd believe him. Any doubt would be erased with the charm of terms like 'hog mollies', and now we're content with the idea that Dave says the roster is good, so it must be good.

Are the answers really already there, or is this an attempt to buy him some time?

Safety

The value didn't match the board on draft night, that's fine -- but it's a hard sell to say that the Panthers have their answers at safety. D.J. Campbell was promising late in the year, but there's a huge jump from small-sample success, to 16-game starter. This was a mistake the team has made many times before, and it's rare a player is ready like Charles Johnson was.

If you remember correctly, it took one full (and mediocre) year as a starter for Greg Hardy to find his form -- and if Carolina want to compete in 2013 they simply can't rely on the likes of D.J. Campbell and Mike Mitchell at strong safety.

Is the answer already on the roster? No

Cornerback

There was a good chance the team could have selected Xavier Rhodes on draft night, so obviously they weren't fully sold on having a full depth chart. Signing Drayton Florence and D.J. Moore certainly helped, but they still have too many nickels and no starters.

The two Josh's are clearly the long-term plan. Dave Gettleman publicly mentioned that they improved greatly over 2012, and both Norman and Thomas have the potential to be the guys. However, they really need another year of growth and conditioning to be considered ready -- and perhaps this is the idea with Florence and Moore.

Is the answer already on the roster? Yes, but they might not be ready until 2014

Wide receiver

Free agency was pretty passive for Carolina, but they were aggressive in their pursuit of wide receivers. Ted Ginn was brought on board to help on special teams, while Domenik Hixon will be the third receiver in 2013. Despite this, they aren't ready for life after Steve Smith. It's clear they look at plenty of options in the draft, but addressed their biggest needs instead.

Smitty is still Smitty, and LaFell is effective -- but this team is not prepared to lose Steve Smith without their entire offense going up in flames. He means more to this team than he's often given credit for, and they have to find an option soon.

Is the answer already on the roster? No. They'll make it though 2013, but this is now a vital need.

Offensive tackle

Nothing made me more overjoyed in the draft than seeing D.J. Fluker get taken with the 11th overall pick. I felt the Chargers reached to the sky for him, and while it was always an outside chance the Panthers were interested, it still scared me. Reaching for tackles became the calling card of the first round -- as the Giants selected Justin Pugh, and the Bears took Kyle Long.

It was a smart draft decision, but Carolina are in deep trouble long-term. Jordan Gross is on a one-year deal, Byron Bell has shown flashes, but nothing to write home about -- and it's more concerning that they have no talent in the pipeline. The offensive tackle position is as dire as this team has ever had, and when it means protecting Cam Newton it becomes frightening.

Is the answer already on the roster? They aren't even close. This is the #1 need and needs to be addressed.

Make no mistake, Dave Gettleman is doing the right thing -- and this is far from calling the man a bullshit artist. However, there are realities about a GM's role being as much about public relations as it is team building. He needed to tell us the roster was almost there, because the fans needed to hear the team was almost there. It's a calculated risk that the coaches can build up the players, because he has no other chips to place.

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