It’s decision time in North Carolina. What happens now could affect our future for the next four years and beyond. No detail can be overlooked or ignored. Whether the issue is money, defense or stability for the future, decisions need to be made that will benefit the people of North Carolina and allow us to prosper in ways that we have seen in the past. It’s time to make the critical decisions. Not between Red and Blue. But between the Silver, Teal, and Black.
Between now and the beginning of next season, the Panthers will have a number of decisions to make that will determine whether the franchise becomes a perennial contender or a perennial laughing stock. Everything from the Head Coach down to the 53rd man on the roster and all the way back up to the front office will be evaluated. No one is safe. Other than Cam Newton, it wouldn’t be surprising if anyone currently employed by the franchise is with a different team next season. And even Cam could be gone if he has a miserable last eight games. If Marty Hurney’s firing was any indication, we are headed for a complete house cleaning in which everyone’s relative value to the team will be closely evaluated.
What’s unique is that the Panthers do not fit the typical profile of a rebuilding NFL team. Generally, when an NFL team is rebuilding they are either desperately seeking a franchise quarterback, have a coach at the end of long tenure, have a few aging players who used to be productive, have a long history of losing, have an impatient fan base, or any combination of those traits. The Panthers don’t really fall into any of those categories. In addition, it is extremely rare to see a team who had the number one pick, hit on that pick (not to mention hitting on their first round pick the next year as well), and still be in rebuilding mode a mere two years later. All of the elements say that the Panthers should at least be on their way to contending at this point, if not already contending. It makes you wonder, what happened to the Panthers?
Then, you look at the Panthers’ financial situation. After shelling out one of the most egregious contracts ever given to a running back for what’s left of DeAngelo Williams—5 years, $43 million—Hurney gave fellow less-than-spectacular runner Jonathan Stewart a $37 million deal to provide a team of running backs who have an uncanny ability to run into the backs of their own linemen. These contracts combine to tie up over $40 million guaranteed in our backfield, leaving us little room to improve on the defensive side of the ball. Couple those deals with a $12 million deal for a kicker who couldn’t even beat out Justin Medlock, and it’s not difficult to see why the Panthers have less financial flexibility than Antoine Walker.
On top of that, the Panthers have had a rash of injuries that have decimated what used to be strengths on their team. This year alone Jon Beason, Chris Gamble, and Ryan Kalil have already gone on Injured Reserve, ending the seasons of three of the team’s most important players. David Gettis hasn’t played all season and Thomas Davis is playing as a shell of himself after a career-long battle with injuries. Sure, injuries are part of the game, but the Panthers seem to have had more than their fair share over the past two seasons. It’s difficult to compete when the players you have counted on most are not on the field for long chucks of time. These injuries have not only caused lost seasons, but could also cause lost careers. The Panthers have sustained injuries that have been shown to linger and affect multiple seasons, with players needing extensive periods of time to get back to their pre-injury performance level.
These injuries and financial situation have put the Panthers in the precarious situation of having a face-of-the-franchise type quarterback with no solid footing around him. They have shifted the culture of the franchise from what used to be a smart, focused organization to one that is in danger of bottom feeding for the foreseeable future. Everything has changed, but not for the reasons NFL fans have come to expect.
Decisions will be made this year. Let’s just hope they are different from the ones that put us in this position to begin with.
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