You may have heard from Hicks on the 4 Step Process to Fix the Falcons, but now I will take a crack at solving the very similar problems going on just 250 miles Northeast in Charlotte, North Carolina. Currently the Panthers and Falcons rank as two of the worst teams in the NFL, which is something that is not common or acceptable from either franchise. Both teams have been at the highest point and have reached the Super Bowl within the past 5 years. In those years, both teams took the league by storm with a QB winning Most Valuable Player. Unfortunately in the NFL, all great seasons likely come with a cost, which is the ongoing and continuous cycle of rebuilds that act like a revolving door. Each team had a great run, but ultimately ended in shambles within a 5 year free fall. The bright side of this is that the other two teams in the NFC South, the Saints and Buccaneers, are at the pinnacle of their franchises, but have 40+ year old QBs who inevitably are fading away into the NFL abyss. Now is the time for the Panthers and Falcons to capitalize, which is why this offseason is going to be one of the most important ever. What must be done for the Panthers to successfully rebuild? I will formally throw my hat in the ring to become the next GM in Carolina by breaking down the four steps the Panthers must utilize to return to greatness.
The first step is to find a Franchise Quarterback. The most important position in the game is Quarterback, and despite Teddy Bridgewater’s above average statistical start he has struggled significantly with his game management. As a trend the Panthers know far too well, they have lost 8 out of 11 games by one score, many of those ending with a failed Bridgewater game winning drive. He has looked good at times, but has never taken over a game and was recently scolded by his coach and the front office over bonehead plays. He is a great locker room leader, but he has become more of a comeback story that lacks success. Bridgewater ranks as the 29th overall QB on PFF with a grade of 67.0, which is above only Tua Tagovailoa, Carson Wentz, Sam Darnold and Drew Lock…all guys who also risk losing their job this offseason. With a brand new GM coming in with such a high pick and loaded draft class the Carolina Panthers should take their shot. Assuming Trevor Lawrence is picked 1st overall, likely by the Jaguars or Jets, the Panthers could land either BYU Phenom Zach Wilson or Ohio State Playmaker Justin Fields. Both options offer much more upside and potential than Teddy, which is important given the Panthers’ offensive playmakers DJ Moore, Robby Anderson, Curtis Samuel and Christian McCaffrey are all in their mid 20s and the prime of their careers. The window is open for the Panthers offense to succeed, but the QB position will need to be filled quickly.
The reason the Panthers parted ways with longtime GM Marty Hurney was clearly more deep-rooted than just back-to-back-to-back losing seasons. Hurney has had a tremendous amount of success evaluating collegiate talent and hasn’t had too many misses through the draft. Where Hurney’s true issues lie are within free agency, which does not just include bringing guys in, but more importantly having guys stay. Over the last several seasons the Panthers have failed to retain budding stars such as Bills starting Linebacker AJ Klein, Jaguars solid Left Guard Andrew Norwell, and Giants Pro Bowl Cornerback James Bradberry (this list doesn’t even include the two kickers that rank near the top of the league, but were each cut). This offseason WR Curtis Samuel and OT Taylor Moton are two names in particular that the team must make the top priorities to bring back. Samuel acts as the glue guy of the Panthers offense and has been one of the most dependable slot receivers in the NFL, which truly legitimizes the potential of Joe Brady’s offense. Moton, who could be one of the priciest offseason moves, is amongst the top free agents in the NFL. He is currently the 12th rated Tackle in the NFL by PFF and has been ranked in the top 17 in each of the last 3 years. Samuel, 24, and Moton, 26, are both emerging stars in the NFL and important boxes to check when solidifying this rebuild.
Anyone who has watched a game this year could likely point out the secondary as the biggest weakness of the team. The Panthers are giving up 240 passing yards a game and have struggled to keep a core group together. Despite the fact that 4th Round Pick Troy Pride Jr. and veteran acquisition Rasul Douglas have been atrocious, it seems that Slot CB Corn Elder and #1 CB Donte Jackson have both taken a step forward in their careers. As much Jackson and Elder have improved, their potential limits them as #2 CB and Slot CB respectively. At the Safety position the Panthers have had two of the worst in the league to start at the position. Longtime Panther Tre Boston seems to be at the end of his career and veteran journeyman Juston Burris likely won’t have much of a future. Luckily, rookie standout Jeremy Chinn provides assistance to the secondary, (along with everywhere else on the field), but he likely will spend most of his time lining up in the box as an Outside Linebacker. The 2021 class should be loaded with secondary talent, which should allow for the Panthers to make moves to emphasize rebuilding the secondary. If they elect to not take a QB in the first round (potentially to target Sam Howell in 2022) they could take Virginia Tech standout Caleb Farley or Alabama lockdown corner Patrick Surtain II. A strong secondary was a key part to the 2015 Super Bowl team and paired experienced vets with emerging stars. A revival of Thieves Ave would work wonders for the Carolina defense.
The Panthers may have some future superstars in their front 7, including Brian Burns, Jeremy Chinn and Derrick Brown, but their lack of depth and experience has hindered them throughout the year. Last year the Panthers brought back Shaq Thompson on a long term deal to solidify him as the leader of the young team. Thompson has done what he can do, but it is clear that there has been a massive drop-off from losing NFL Superstar Luke Kuechly. Although Kuechly will be impossible to replace, the Panthers must attempt to bring in another high caliber inside linebacker to play alongside Thompson. A few options through the deep LB class could be Missouri’s Nick Bolton or Kentucky’s Jamin Davis, both versatile run stuffers that could diversify the Panthers defense that could be around in the second or third round. The team also must focus on bringing in some veteran talent to play on the defensive line, as they did in 2019 with Gerald McCoy. DT Zach Kerr has been a bright spot and should return alongside Kawan Short, giving the team both depth and experience in the middle of the line.
This season may have seemed hopeless at 5-11, but there are many bright spots within the organization. The offense is almost there…not to mention they should return a fully healthy Christian McCaffrey in 2021. The coaching decision seems to have been wise as Matt Rhule is a great fit within the culture of the organization. Lastly, the budding superstars on the defense certainly are going to pay off in the near future and are incredible building blocks to have this early in a rebuild. Don’t give up Panthers fans, you have a great shot at turning things around very soon.