As some have probably noted, I've been a little quiet since the draft, but now that everything is finally starting to cool off, I've had time to really sit down and reflect on what the Panthers have done and how they are looking as we move into the early off season.
Strength at Defensive Tackle
With one swooping draft, the Panthers look to have solidified their interior for the first time since Kris Jenkins was sent to the New York Jets. Fua and McClain were nothing if not underwhelming and never really developed into solid contributors for this team, but by all accounts it appears that our new double-down on DTs looks to be cut from a different cloth. Before his heart scare, Star Lotulelei was considered by many to one of if not the best draft prospects overall. Likewise, Short is also an added pick up whom I expect to see contributions from early on in the season by the 4th week, if not sooner. In any event, a previous weakness now looks to be a strength.
Running Back Quandry... or lack thereof
As some of you may have noted, about the only thing I've really spoke up recently on is the status of DeAngelo Williams in the future of our offense. Personally, I wasn't really inclined to believe that the drafting of Kenjon Barner in some way spelled the end of DeAngelo Williams's time in Carolina. Quite frankly, Barner is not a poor man's DeAngelo Williams and to think that the new 6th round pick could be replacing the best RB in Panther's history is a long shot by far. No, I think Barner is more likely a project who can step in for to special teams roles, particularly PR and KR after Ginn leaves.
As it stands, I really don't think there is any changing of the guard here at RB. Williams finished the season on a strong note, proving that he is more than capable still of being the lead back. The benefit of having Stewart was always that they were great compliments to each other. I think we'll be keeping the status quo of an equal split between double trouble, and that's really the way it should be. Each back is talented enough to be used in any package on offense we throw at them, but last season we saw both pigeon holed into very specific roles, which really made them less effective.
Besides, DeAngelo's restructure makes it a lot harder to cut him because his base salaries are really low. He'll be with us for the long haul. And speaking of Williams's restructure...
Let's Re-sign the Kraken
Not only should this be a priority, but we can actually do it. In conjunction with a few moves, some of which might not be so tasteful, it would be really easy to lock up Greg Hardy. He is young, productive, and positively insane. Quite frankly, I like that. Besides, who doesn't wanna see a Hardy Short Star Johnson defensive line for the next 5 years?
To do this, there are likely going to be some more deals that need to be addressed similar to what DeAngelo received. In particular, Jon Beason is going to have to accept a diminished role in our defense and take a pay cut that is equivalent to said role. If not, he's probably the best option to trade going into next season. I wouldn't cut him, but I'm sure there are many teams out there would would love to acquire a Pro-Bowl MLB if Beason is unwilling to do what it takes to stay with Carolina.
We need another WR
Speaking of personnel moves and their team salaries... Why are we paying a 34 year old WR $7 million a year when even he says he wouldn't pay one that much? Steve Smith is perhaps the best Panther in franchise history, but like Jon Beason, he's just a little too expensive for the services he provides. If I had one thing I disliked about this past draft, it would be that we did not attempt to address the deficiency at WR. In the event that Brandon LaFell goes elsewhere next season, we're left with a lot of really unproven and underdeveloped WRs... Unless you really think that Ted Ginn Jr is finally going to make that leap. Doubtful.
So we're going to really need to look hard for that WR. The problem is that if we do re-sign Hardy, we can't really pursue a topflight WR agent, which means we'll have to target a WR in the draft next season... Oh and there's one other problem there...
We really need another OT
We all know that Jordan Gross isn't going to be on the team for much longer. I don't know what they are going to do when his contracts ends. As it stands, we're looking at Bruce Campbell and Byron Bell as our starting tackles and that quite frankly scares me. Who knows, maybe Campbell has stepped it up a notch since coming to us from the Raiders, but I really am not holding out hope for that.
Our offensive line was one of the worst in the league last year, and rest assured no amount of help from C Ryan Kalil returning to the line up will alleviate the need for solid offensive tackles to keep edge rushers off Cam's flanks. And like I said, if we re-sign the Kracken, where is the money going to come from to pick up the rest of the players we need? Well, it's not that it isn't there... it's just that there's probably a $20 million elephant staring at us in 2015 and we sure as hell aren't going to let that one get away...
That's really about all I had to share this week. If you enjoyed the random nonsensical thoughts that have been churning about in this authors head, let me know and I'll be sure to keep it through the summer and into the season.
Keep it classy Panther Nation.