Well this hasn't gone the way we, or at least I, expected. As a matter of fact this off-season has gone almost exactly the opposite way I thought it would. I had accepted that we wouldn't be able to retain Hardy. After he rejected Gettleman's original offer at the beginning of last season, I believed he had overestimated his value to the Panthers, and would wind up signing a sizable contract with a perennial bottom-dweller. I thought that with the team finishing 12-4 Jordan Gross would be inclined to hang around a few more years for a chance to finish his career where it started, the Super Bowl. I felt Ginn and Mitchell, both being younger players who played well for us last year, had earned long term deals with the team. I suspected LaFell would find the market devoid of interest for him, and would comeback on the cheap for us. I thought Steve Smith would be a lifetime Panther. The only thing that I did accurately predict this off-season was that Captain would get a big deal with another team. But I also always valued him less than the coaching staff seemingly did, making me wonder if there was something to his parting tweet:
@DougBaldwinJr bro it's along story lol— Captain Munnerlyn (@captain_41) March 16, 2014
Despite my epic failure up to this point to predict our team's off-season moves, I would like to make another attempt at it. I once had a teacher who said you should always give yourself the first test and quiz in any class to adapt to the teacher's grading style. With that mentality, and learning from my previous failures, I believe I have an idea of what the puzzle looks like Gettleman is trying to piece together. As of this moment our team's composition is: solid back field, franchise QB, porous o-line, an abyss of a receiving corps, arguably the NFL's most talented front 6/7-which will only improve next year as Star, KK, and Luke continue to develop, an improved safety duo*, and a group of young CBs that is without it's two best players from last season-Florence and Captain. Also at this time we have seven draft picks, one in each round, and from these articles somewhere in the area of 6 mil in cap space:
With the first week of free agency passed, meaning most of the top tier free agents gone, so little cap space yet so many holes to fill, how does this team move forward without having another 2010?
*(I would argue that Gettleman clearly believes Harper to be superior to Mikkel, and that a healthy Godfrey** is better for this team than Mitchell. Based on Harper be signed instead of Mikkel, and them allowing Mitchell to walk.)
While some would argue it's inevitable to have a down year this season, Gettleman is still building "his" team after all, I would argue it's the last thing we can afford. The Patriots have been one of the most consistently competitive teams over the last decade and a half, despite going through numerous rebuilds, changing their team philosophy several times, and multiple poor drafts. How? You might ask. Because they have their coach, GM (sure they're the same person, but whatever), QB, and the expectation of greatness. Those are the basic ingredients for a perennial contender.
We all know we have the QB, if given the proper supporting cast Cam could be remembered as the GOAT. Rivera made a strong case for himself being the coach last season, as did Gettleman for being the GM. But this season we learn if they have the talent to sustain their success. Then there's us. We as a fan base must hold the entire organization accountable, and demand greatness, we can not afford apathy. As a fan continuing to demand greatness from this season, despite a very different off-season from what I expected, I would like to examine some of the moves Gettleman can make moving forward to make the Panthers successful in the 2014-15 season.
(updated) Greg Olsen 7.3mil in 2014-2015, Thomas Davis 9.9 mil in 2015, and Ryan Kalil with 7.28 mil in 2014, 11.795 mil in 2015, and 10.329 mil in 2016. These are all fairly large cap figures, but for each of these contracts there are two cheap voidable years after their big years. What this means is that all of their large numbers can be absorbed without killing the team in the short term, or hindering our abilities to sign our young players long term. Re-examining these three contracts, I actually have to give props to Gettleman for their structures. As we will be able to pay these core players the money they've earned, while structuring: Cam, Luke, and Hardy's contracts around them. This allows us to sign our rising stars in the future, while keeping our current stars around now and for cheap veteran leadership later. My re-examination of these three contracts has only given me more hope about Gettleman's long term, and short term plan.
Charles Johnson - 46.26 mil remaining over 3 years. Add two years, and spread remaining money out over 5 years. This cuts his average cap hit down from 16mil to just over 9mil, bringing both immediate and long term cap relief while securing CJ's services for the next five years.
Jonathan Stewart - Due to his signing bonus there's not much you can really do with his contract any time soon. I loved Double Trouble back in the day, but for the next two seasons I would probably just stash him on IR and then cut him in 2016.
**Charles Godfrey - We would save 2 mil this year by cutting him, but due to the fact he hasn't been cut yet I assume he is back to a 100%, and the coaching staff thinks he's the starting FS next year. I only see this changing if we draft a FS in the first two rounds.
Greg Hardy - Michael Johnson and Michael Bennett both signed long term deals for just over 8 mil a year. Peppers and Ware, two aging sure fire HoFers signed short term deals for 10 mil a year. So while Hardy isn't a sure fire HoFer yet, he can argue he could be. So with the market the way it has been for the last two years, relatively quiet for pass rushers, I would like to see Hardy signed to a middle loaded 6 yr ~60mil dollar contract. This will be a defining moment for the franchise. With Luke going to be seeing a 9-10 mil/yr contract soon, and Cam's likely 18-20 mil/yr contract we simply can not afford the weight of a Mario Williams-esque contract. If Hardy and his agent won't accept a reasonable deal I would expect a trade.
With these deals done the team's finical future would be much clearer, and we would get about an extra 12 mil in cap space this season, bringing our total to ~18 mil. About 5 mil of which goes to the signing of our draft picks, leaving 13 mil to play with.
Free Agent Signings:
Travelle Wharton - 2yr 4mil contract
Damian Williams - 1yr 1.5mil contract
Eben Britton - 1yr 1mil contract
Ben Hartstock - 1yr 850k contract
Antonie Cason - 1yr 850k contract
Drayton Florence - 1yr 900k contract
This equates to 7.1 mil spent, leaving 6 mil in reserve for emergency or cap rollover.
(I have put together an entire draft board, but that's a lot even for this post. If requested I could do a separate post though.)
1) Odell Beckham Jr, WR
2) Donte Moncrief, WR
3) Billy Turner, OT
4) CJ Fiedorowicz, TE
5) Antone Exum, S
6) Michael Campanaro, WR
7) Luke Lucas, OT
-Spencer Long, OG
-Ryan Hewitt, FB
-Mister Cobble, NT
-Colt Lyerla, TE
HB) DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Kenjon Barner
FB) Mike Tolbert, Richie Brockel
WR1) Odell Beckham Jr, Donte Moncrief, Marvin McNutt
WR2) Damian Williams, Michael Campanaro
TE) Greg Olsen, Ben Hartstock, CJ Fiedorowicz
LT) Eben Britton, Garry Williams
LG) Amini Silatolu, Nate Chandler
C) Ryan Kalil, Brian Folkerts
RG) Travelle Wharton, Edmund Kugbila, Chris Scott
RT) Byron Bell, Billy Turner
DE) Charles Johnson, Greg Hardy, Mario Addison, Frank Alexander, Wes Horton
DT) Star Lotulelei, Kawann Short, Dwan Edwards, Linden Gaydosh
CB) Drayton Florence, Anotnie Cason, Melvin White, James Dockery, Josh Norman
S) Charles Godfrey, Roman Harper, Robert Lester, Antone Exum, Colin Jones
K) Graham Gano
P) Brad Nortman
LS) JJ Jansen
IR) Luke Lucas
Notes on Final 53:
-2014 should be a year where we see Cam take on a larger role in the offense, both on the field and in the locker room.
-The HB corps is aging, or unreliable, we might see a mid round pick in 2015 to address this.
-The left side of the o-line will very likely be no where near as dominate as it was in 2013, but moving Wharton over should improve the right side. Overall the line will probably regress some in 2014, but it should be serviceable if they gel together. The line has better depth than in 2013.
-CJ Fiedorowicz should contribute immediately at TE, allowing more frequent two-TE sets, and freeing up Olsen.
-The receiving corps is very young, but immensely talented. Due to what is left of the FA market I think our WRs will primarily be drafted, which will result in some growing pains, but a bright future.
-The D-line should improve as KK and Star grow into the NFL. It will interesting to see Frank's growth next season, as well as Horton's snap count. Mario flashed last year at times, can he build on it?
-Our group of LBs is matched only by San Fran.
-This Safety group is talented, though both starters are coming off injuries. Lester showed talent as a rookie, and Exum was a steal in the 5th round who can develop behind Godfrey. Colin Jones is a serviceable backup and excellent STer.
-Florence and Cason are below average starters, but were the best available, and will hopefully be good enough behind one of the elite fronts in the NFL. Norman, Dockery, and White will all be heavily evaluated during the season. Expect to see a similar overhaul to the CBs in 2015 as we did with the WRs this year. This group will again be held together by mid(?)-tier FAs, while other areas(WR) are addressed in the 2014 draft.
-Expect a mixture of OBJ, Barner, and Campanaro to handle returns, hopefully one of them will be serviceable.
-Coverage units looked good last year, and I expect the same in 2014.
-Gano and Nortman should both be very good next year.
-JJ is what the rest of the team aspires to, perfection.
I admit it would be a bit presumptuous to think a repeat of last year's success is guaranteed. However I don't see why at least 10-6 with a wildcard spot is out of the question. And more importantly I don't see why its unreasonable to expect a playoff birth this season, even with all that's happened so far, because there are still plenty of quality moves to be made to improve our team.