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The 2014 Carolina Panthers: Where Should We Go From Here?

It may seem sad that I’m already starting to look towards next year and considering the 2013 season a wash, but given how two weeks in, it’s clear that nothing at all has changed during the Ron Rivera era and that Teflon Ron continues to make the same mistakes he’s made over the last two seasons, it’s pretty clear that he’s firmly establishing himself as a lame-duck head coach, and that the coaching staff will likely be out the door at season’s end. Congratulations to Dave Gettleman and Jerry Richardson for managing to push this franchise rebuild back yet another year and making what should have been a two year rebuild enter its fourth season under its second head coach.

The question is, where do we go from here? More to the point, where should we go from here? There are issues to be fixed, and no quick and easy answers. That said, let’s begin:

Front Office/Organization

This is mostly directed at Jerry Richardson and Dave Gettleman.

First off, find yourself a head coach who not only believes, but salivates at the prospect of having Cam Newton as a quarterback. Cam Newton is not the problem -- the coaching of the last three years has been the problem. Blaming Cam because he can’t play all eleven offensive field positions simultaneously while defending your complete unwillingness to try and give him the weapons he needs to have a shot at winning games is asinine, and the fact that you’re putting all of the pressure on him to win when he can’t control what happens (like the no-audible thing because of Shula’s and Chud’s insecurity in calling an offensive game-plan) is icing on the cake. Second, please quit trying to shoe-horn the players into the coaches’ game-plan; after two years of Chud game-planning for the Cleveland HC position and putting himself before the franchise, it’s abundantly clear that approach doesn’t work, and the front office is neck-deep in this mess from being a party to making those exact same mistakes by continuing the mediocrity of hiring Mike Shula. It looks like a desperation move to keep Rivera from being canned mid-season, due to lack of options for interim head coach.

Look at the situation you’re in now: the mishandling of this franchise since 2010 is leaving the team with Rivera as a lame-duck coach. We have a horrific offensive line (especially on the right side), no real WR corps aside from Smitty, and a depleted secondary… and guess what? You haven’t done anything to address it, aside from playing to Rivera’s and Gettleman’s homerisms with player selection. Worse, it’s all but assured that some fans, at least, will believe that you’re deliberately torpedo’ing your second season in the last four (2010 was bad enough, but now you’re doing it again in 2013 because of your obstinate unwillingness to get out of your own way and making matters worse).

The Draft

Scouting department, you’re on the clock now.

Look at the above problems: offensive line, wide receiver, secondary. Those should be your priority targets in this coming draft, and likely the 2015 NFL Draft as well. Quit trying to stock up linebackers and running backs like this is Pokemon. The offensive line is in shambles, aside from Kalil. Jordan Gross is on the wrong side of 30 and has been slipping for the last several seasons, and he’s already about cleared the way to be gone after this season unless we can luck out and resign him; you’ve been dumpster-diving for Division II offensive linemen and they have yet to pan out (I know Silatolu has only had a season, and Kugbila just got drafted, but still, it’s ridiculous); worst, you’ve refused to even look at RG and RT, despite the fact that Garry Williams isn’t all that great and Byron Bell makes Mackenzy “Turnstile” Bernadeau look like all All-Pro.

Wide receiver… Smitty’s been all but begging to be put into the slot for how long now? But no, we haven’t done it. Instead, we’re hoping Ginn can be a deep threat, we have Hixon taking up space and not doing anything, we have Armanti Edwards as a QB-to-WR conversion, and Brandon LaFell. Draft a new #1 WR, slip Smitty into the slot and let him decimate the defense. As a brief aside… look at a second tight end with hands (and who can block decently as well), and give Cam some more weapons on offense. The 2-TE sets worked wonders in 2011 for Cam; I daresay it will work again.

Secondary… ye gods, where do I begin? Okay, first things first: Captain Munnerlyn is NOT a starting cornerback in the NFL. He’s a nickelback at best (and I’m not sure whether to compare him to the band or not) and has no business whatsoever being out on the sidelines as a #1 or #2 CB. Get some secondary help so that other NFL teams don’t automatically decide to bomb them deep because they know just how bad our secondary is. The so-called “youth movement” is a wash if you aren’t going to at least give them some veteran experience to rely on and learn from.

Free Agency

Back to Richardson and Gettleman (you didn’t think I was done with them yet, did you?); mostly to Richardson.

Cap space does no good if you just let it sit there. Put a hold on the Greg Hardy contract talks and let the season play out, then try to resign him at a decent price; let him prove how good he is, or whether he just got lucky in 2012. Aside from that, I have this crazy, nigh-insane idea: how about actually spending some of that cap money to shore up the obvious weaknesses in your roster? Why are you resigning a defensive tackle in Sione Fua, who couldn’t really cut it here the last two years, instead of getting offensive line help when it became obvious in Week 1 that Byron Bell was trash, let alone seeing him gift-wrap and hand Mario Williams a record-setting day in Week 2? This team needs help, and while I understand there’s a long-term cap salary outlook to be taken into account, you’re seriously undermining your franchise in the present for a supposed “future” that you’ve failed to deliver for four years now, again due to the mismanagement of the franchise. Quit doing that.

Free agency is the best place to go after the draft to make preparations for the final 53-man roster. Building through the draft for the “youth movement” is all well, fine and good, but it means nothing if you’re unwilling to let those young players learn from older players with veteran experience. This unwillingness to spend money and play the role of cheap miser is why Cam’s arsenal has been depleted, year by year. This has to change, and change fast. Quit sabotaging your roster and toying with your fanbase.

Conclusion

Past free agency, I can’t really go any further. So many variables aren’t able to be taken into account, like who the Panthers will most likely look at for a new head coach, how that head coach puts together his coaching staff, so on and so forth. I may comb through the league and look at some coaching prospects that might warrant closer inspection for the 2014 Panthers.

Questions, comments, thoughts? Let’s hear them.

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