NFL free agency 2014: Hakeem Nicks signs with Colts

Al Bello

The Panthers are going to need to get creative (and lucky) to fix their receiving woes.

Hakeem Nicks has signed a one year deal with the Indianapolis Colts and that's okay.

Hopes were high that the free agent receiver would come home to Charlotte and play for the Panthers as a means to ameliorate the release of Steve Smith, but general manager Dave Gettleman will need to pursue other avenues -- and he can't wait too much longer.

It was clear early on that Carolina wouldn't show its hand during the first week of free agency, an attempt to let the market go wild and pick up bargain deals later in free agency. Methodical has been Gettleman's approach to team building and that wouldn't change due to fan freakouts and pro Steve Smith rallies. There are times that rubric is wise, if you're looking to land elite talent in free agency it isn't.

Regardless of whether you think he was worth it or not, Nicks was one of the few top talents left at wide receiver in free agency. James Jones, formerly of the Green Bay Packers is likely in play too -- but after that the market falls off a cliff. Playing early in free agency requires two things: Moving quickly and having a willingness to stroke egos, we know the Panthers didn't do the first and it's unclear if the second is possible with Gettleman at the helm.

Things will take time and most of all patience from fans reaching critical mass at the prospect of losing Smith and not finding a replacement quickly. Right now no team in the NFL has a worse group of receivers than the Panthers and when paired with the struggles on the offensive line that's a scary prospect. That said, there are a few reasons why it's too early to panic.

1. The draft is where Carolina will try and make its mark.

2. Late pickups are risky, but can still break out.

3. It helps that Greg Olsen is really freakin' good.

That third point is what the Panthers should hang their hat on. Cam Newton has always thrived with good tight end play and if that's able to be paired with decent receiver play the team will be fine.

Early on we said that the team's offseason decision would be about retaining Greg Hardy or keeping numerous free agents. That was called an "overreaction," but is precisely what we've seen in the last week. The one-year deals that helped build the 2013 team have all left to greener pastures, while Hardy was given the franchise tag. It's a gamble based on a belief that he's the dollar amongst the dimes, and more importantly that he'll sign long term.

It's a calculated risk. This offseason will ultimately be a success if Hardy signs a long-term deal when the money is available, should he leave in 2015 it will be a massive failure. Carolina is all in on defense, hoping the draft can solve a lot of the other problems. That could (and likely will) mean a step back immediately, but a chance for much greater gains down the road.

One doesn't need to put all their faith in the general manager, but trust the direction and process. It's proven to work, even if that leads to pain right now.

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