With today's unfortunate lose there were two equally unfortunate truths shown: 1. Our year (as amazing as it was!) is over, time to focus on the off-season. 2. Our roster and team still has some gaping holes that need to be filled/improved.
The main issue on hand is largely considered to be the Greg Hardy issue. Hardy's performance in today's game versus the 49er's showed that while a very effective player he is not yet an elite pass-rusher in the same vein as Charles Johnson is. With that being said Hardy is still a vital part of our team and can ascend to the height of being an elite pass rusher (which personally I believe he will). With these considerations in mind I feel as we should reserve the right to franchise tag Hardy this off-season. This allows us to keep him on our team for one more year and to better assess his true value. In the long run, if we are completely honest, this might bode well for his aspirations to a highly paid defensive end...if of course his performance keeps stride with his assumption of pay compensation.
The second main issue facing the Panthers this off-season is the issue of the offensive line, specifically at RT. Today proved that Byron Bell has to go...he literally tackled our running-backs twice!!! I really want to feel a little bit of sympathy for the guy but it's to the point where it is just plain unacceptable. He would not even be a good depth-chart filler; what's the use of having a guy on your team to backup you starter if he is incapable of blocking at all. There are a couple of options to consider...the one pressing on most Panther's fan's minds is finding a good right tackle in the first 3 rounds of the draft. I however believe that due to the excellent depth of wide receivers and cornerbacks (more chance of building depth at those thin positions) in this year's draft class we should pursue Michael Oher in free agency to replace Bell. Oher has had a rather down year and I believe since he cost a decent amount on the Ravens' salary he will be released. When he is the Panthers should pounce on him. At a potentially lower price than normal and as a potential replacement for Gross this would be an economical and wise investment by the Panthers.
The third main issue is the issue of pass catchers...lets rewind to early today and imagine what the difference could have been if Newton had Crabtree, Boldin, and Davis at his disposal. We have to get better at the wide receiver position. This has to be done through the NFL draft. I think we have to take either Kelvin Benjamin or Allen Robinson in the first. I think in the third we go back with either a Donte Moncrief or a Brandon Coleman. I finally think in the 6th or 7th we take either Mike Campanaro or Jeff Janis. Picking up Oher in the free agency will allow us to utilize these picks for excellent wide receiver depth and talent in this year's draft. Just like last year with defensive tackle we have to take at least two!
The forth and final issue is the secondary. This issue is not near as pressing because we have young talent there, we just do not have solid depth and a solid big-bodied corner to put in man to man coverage on a big-bodied receiver. We have lucked up this year due to the wide spread of talent at the cornerback position in this year's draft class. I believe in the 2nd round we will have excellent ability to take a solid corner that we need for our secondary to excel. Names that come to mind are: Roby, Fuller, Joyner or Purifoy.
In conclusion I believe Gettleman and his staff are up to the task to keeping the Panthers superbowl contenders for many years to come and this year was just the beginning. Here is a run-down of my proposed off-season:
Franchise Tag: Greg Hardy
NFL Draft: 1. Kelvin Benjamin WR. FSU
2. Brandon Roby CB. Ohio State
3. Donte Moncrief WR. Ole Miss
4. Justin Britt OT. Missouri
5. Stanley Jean-Baptiste CB. Nebraska
6. Jeff Janis WR. SVU
7. Zach Fulton OG. Tennessee
Thank you Panthers, Keep Pounding!!!