Author's Note: Whether it's Armanti, the draft, or Keenan Allen, discussions about WRs tend to draw the most emotion here. You don't have to be perfect but please be grown-ups. This post is intended neither to promote nor disparage Brandon LaFell, but to consider his impending free agency.
While Greg Hardy garners most of the attention, Brandon LaFell is also in a contract year and will become a free agent in 2014. So let's talk about #11, aka Buck, aka sticks, aka Jo Jo, aka Jody Breeze, aka God's Gift.
LaFell reminds me of being asked about how your buddy's girlfriend looks. In your mind, you know there's plenty of girls out there that are hotter, but several that could be uglier as well. Your opinion on LaFell generally depends on whether you see the glass as half-empty or half-full.
His two seasons with Cam:
36 catches, 613 yards, 17.0 ypc avg, 3 TDs
44 catches, 677 yards, 15.4 ypc avg, 4 TDs
LaFell has had a knack for disappearing during games, then reappearing late for a huge 3rd down catch. Despite being a "bigger" receiver, he has yet to show himself as a serious redzone threat. Yet LaFell answered some questions about his speed while being utilized in a new wrinkle last year. The Panthers shook things up and used him on end-arounds a few times, with good success (3 rushes for 35 yards).
The conundrum is...do you pay a guy with his skill set in free agency? How competitive will other teams be in bidding for him? For the Panthers, losing LaFell could pose a greater impact than what lies on the surface. As a four year veteran, LaFell is steady in a firm role on the team. Potentially having to replace both LaFell and Smitty simultaneously, our #1 and #2 WRs, could be devastating. The team is strapped for resources when it comes to signing a premium receiver in free agency. They also have other key positions of need to consider with their early picks in the 2014 draft. Options for procuring one quality wideout will be tight the Panthers, let alone two.
There is a fundamental shift in the offense from the Fox to Rivera eras. Also a shift in how GM's Hurney and Gettleman handle their free agents. I believe the decision will be based upon how important the team perceives his role to be, versus the replaceability or upgradeablity of that role by someone else. At this point, I believe LaFell is a WYSIWYG type of player. I don't expect him to do much more than what he has done, but what he has done may be solid enough to need to keep around. By default, LaFell is by far our best 3rd round draft pick in the past 5 years. It may behoove the team to hold on to their better young players.
Teams have been paying #2 WRs absurd amounts of money lately. Laurent Robinson, Brian Hartline, and Danny Amendola all signed 5 year contracts worth between $30 and $32 million respectively. With the Hurnster, I would have fully expected him to pay his own draft pick premium dollar. Under the Gettleman regime, big money for LaFell seems less likely. Still, since Brandon's highest production years were statisticly less than the wideouts above, I would expect him to be signed for proportionately less money.
The big question is: Would you be willing to resign Brandon LaFell to a 4-5 year contract in the $20 million dollar range? (For comparisons sake, you can look at some of the other Panther contracts here on Spotrac.)