It's been 48 hours since the Carolina Panthers released veteran wide receiver Jason Avant and it remains difficult to make sense of it all. Superficially you can either look at the move in two ways: Either he was released for speaking out against the playcalling from Sunday's game against the Falcons, or he was simply determined to be too old to help the team. There's one problem, neither answer makes sense.
The key issue is the reasoning behind bringing Avant to Carolina in the first place. He was signed shortly after the heady time when so many were sure Hakeem Nicks would return to the Carolinas after being let go by the New York Giants. That candle was snuffed out, and Avant was very much a consolation prize -- well, a prize in the same way getting awarded an inflatable mallet is a prize at a state fair sideshow.
What Avant offered that Nicks didn't was a veteran presence on an offense sorely needing on at wide receiver. It was hoped that he and Jerricho Cotchery could be steadying forces in an otherwise potentially-volatile locker room adjusting to life after Steve Smith and Jordan Gross.
"Leadership" is a word we've heard ad nauseum during the Panthers losing streak. Every permutation of the phrase ranging from "Cam Newton needs to be a leader" to "Someone needs to be a leader" has been repeated week-in-week-out. We're left wondering if Avant wasn't leading at all.
That's a question there's no good answer to. By all accounts he was a consummate professional and steadying presence in the Eagles locker room for years, but for some reason that didn't carry over to Carolina. Was he simply unable to rally the rag-tag group of players the Panthers have, or had he checked out emotionally in switching cities? We'll never know.
What doesn't make sense, however, is the justification that Avant was released to create playing time for Philly Brown. Look, Brown has been extremely good at wide receiver and his stunning 47-yard touchdown catch made the decision to give him more reps easier, but that decision didn't necessitate cutting a sure-handed receiver on a team lacking them.
Avant wasn't great this season, but the expectation was never greatness. He was just supposed to be a steadying force and a player who could be relied on when everyone else was unreliable. With two drops in 40 targets he was just that. Only Cotchery has more than 15 catches and a lower drop rate higher than Avant; in fact, the top three players on the entire team in reliability were Greg Olsen, Cotchery and Avant.
In short: The Panthers traded reliability for the potential of something special, and that's a risk.
It's the kind of move that teams make when their seasons are already over. A decision made with foresight to prepare for next year -- not a team that could potentially (and hilariously) win the division. Yes it's unlikely, but the NFC South is historically and comically terrible. Whoever winds up winning this division will get a Pyrrhic victory, and almost certainly be bumped in the Wild Card round. That doesn't mean packing it in though.
Flash needs to be balanced with reliability. Perhaps Brown can be what the Panthers need, and he's certainly looked the part when he's not returning kicks -- but if a game comes down to another few points or a critical third down and there's another dropped pass, I'll be wondering where that veteran presence was.