Key Stats: 43d Ranked Pass Blocking Tackle - 9 Sacks Allowed, 6 Hits Allowed and 31 Hurries Allowed
Byron Bell's story has always been extraordinary. Who among us can deny the incredible odds that were stacked against this undrafted free agent who had somehow earned a starting gig in the NFL only four years removed from tragically losing his younger brother in a house fire. Fast forward three years and the story is still good in the heartwarming sense, but it has long since lost its relevance. This is a shame because his NFL career started out so promising, and he had an entire fan base enthusiastically embracing and rooting for him.
The issue with Bell's tenure here in Carolina is tied to the fact that one would have a difficult time making any noticeable distinction between his 2013 season performance and his previous two seasons. Expectations were low for the Texas native his rookie season, and rightfully so. But you can only get by with a below average level of play in the NFL for so long. That is why the acronym Not For Long is so appropriate.
If Bell ever had any chance of sticking long term in a starting role with the Panthers, he would have needed to prove his worth as a road grading, run blocking machine at some point along the way, but that never materialized. Don't get me wrong. There may be a place in this league for this soon to be restricted free agent, but it shouldn't be as a first string right tackle. If the Panthers have any realistic expectations of advancing beyond the divisional playoff round in 2014, they would be wise to find his replacement in free agency or the draft. I personally can't imagine Bell being viewed by the front office as a priority free agent. I have to believe the only way he remains a Panther is if he is willing to accept a basement level offer to play in a back up role.
Key Stats: 10th Ranked Pass Blocking Tackle - 6 Sacks Allowed, 1 Hit Allowed, 22 Hurries Allowed
If I would have told you before the 2013 season began that Jordan Gross was going to be one of the best left tackles in the league, you might have laughed. But who's laughing now? It is no secret by now that the 33 year old Idaho native had a career year, and let's not forget that he did the Panthers a big favor by accepting a salary reduction which immediately cleared $6.8 million of cap space last March. New general manager, Dave Gettleman, needed some cap relief and Gross unselfishly stepped up to take one for the team. It was only fitting that his rejuvenated play subsequently earned him his first Pro Bowl berth since 2010.
For my money, number 69 has been one of the most underrated left tackles in all of the NFL over the past decade. I wouldn't go so far as to say that Gross is a borderline Hall of Fame candidate, but I do firmly believe that the totality of his career has been massively under-appreciated both by the media and Panthers' fans. How can you dislike a guy who has been a consummate professional on and off the field? I must admit that I'm a complete sucker for selflessness and I love to see such a noble virtue rewarded.
The bottom line is that Gettleman needs to do whatever it takes to bring Gross back for at least another year. His leadership were invaluable in 2013 and will no doubt pay dividends moving forward. If the Panthers fail to bring him back, the options become dicey. They would likely have to overpay for another free agent of equal or better skill level, underpay for a less talented veteran, or rely on a rookie to immediately step in and protect our franchise quarterback's blindside. None of these options would be prudent for a team who seems to be on the verge of something special. Gross knows it and Gettleman knows it. Something tells me that our most tenured offensive lineman will be back to finish his career where it began, back at the Super Bowl.
Nate Chandler and Travis Bond
Chandler put in 40 snaps of work and Bond was only in on 4 plays. I felt as if there was little need to give out a grade on such a small sample size.
What do you think CSR?