Carolina Panthers State of the Team

I am awaiting Tom Brady's news conference to explain the situation as to why he plays with under-inflated balls, you can not make this stuff up, folks. Gisele might be disappointed with hubby, but I can't speak to that as I have no personal experience with deflated balls. I mostly played baseball, not softball, growing up anyway and when I played football, I was on the defensive side of things.

At any rate, the whole hullabaloo (<--- spell-check approved, nyaah) got me thinking about football. Skipping several steps, I wound up with my favorite team. What do they look like now? What will they look to improve and how? Who will be gone? 

All good questions that I have no answers to. It's too early yet, which allows us room to fantasize a bit. No, not about Brady's situation unless you're a masochist. I'm just trying to think through how the team looks right now and "project" a little. More money, Gettleman said. But he didn't tell you how much of a cheapskate he seems to be, which we sorta need due to the slowly fading salary cap limbo hell from Hades of death, fire, and chaos. And famine and pestilence. Plus a bad allergy and gas.

The Cap and Contracts

David Gettleman has recently, publicly stated that we "don't have to shop at the dollar store" this season. 

That might be true, but it doesn't mean we can go picking up the best free agent offensive tackle or shiniest toy for Cam, either. He's playing out his option year but likely will have a hefty price tag. He makes $4 million a year now and could break into eight figures after this year. Then, there's Luke Kuechly's future deal to worry about coming due. It looks like the two deals could well be done within the same window next season, so we have to price those young guys in. They're the core of their respective sides of the ball and tying them both up in multi-year contracts won't come cheaply...and they will come. 

Free Agency

As such, I don't see us going out in the free agent market and getting a guy like Randall "Tex" Cobb or even a Jeremy Maclin. Sure, I'd love to see our offense have a speed threat to put opposite The Hulk, but I think they're out of our reach. The two huge looming contracts (and raises) will continue to put a pinch of sorts on the spending. 

Assuming we do have some money to spend, I'm pretty sure the brass wants to improve at the offensive tackle positions. That's where you start building - from the inside-out. The positions went completely un-addressed last year so the team can't afford not to improve here. Nabbing one in free agency would go a long way to keep from being almost forced to reach in the draft for one, but ideally we need two in FA and one in the draft. That's the ideal scenario in my mind.

That aside, Gettleman might bring in a new punt returner. We desperately need one and I'm fine if we get a Ted Ginn, Jr. clone. A mini-Ginn? I hope he's loaded.

Oh, just to be ABLE to think of the day when I could worry about thinking up a nickname for our punt returner that isn't hateful on some level would be great again...if nothing else, just for clean fair catching! And for last season's question "is that too much to ask?" The answer was YES!

But will we get Kraken or will "Fans' Chants Finally Realized as Greg Hardy Gets Released" be the next headline? My thoughts on that are below.

State of the Offense

The more I think about it, the more I like the situation on the inside of the line. The team has certainly had its share of injuries there over the past few seasons but that has allowed the coaches to uncover people they hadn't expected to see, and there remains a mystery man inside named Edmund Kugbila. He was the team's 4th round pick two seasons ago and history tells me that a player that completely misses his first two seasons likely won't even be in the NFL for two more. I hope the kid proves me wrong, but the team won't wait forever on him. 

I think D-Will's best days are behind him and a long, hard look will need to be taken at keeping him vs. salary savings if not this year then next. For now, however, I think the course appears to be Jonathan Stewart as the main runner with DeAngelo Williams as second fiddle. It's a natural progression, since Stewart is the younger man in a young man's game. 

The good news is that while the Panthers need help in all areas, the need isn't dire everywhere. Kelvin Benjamin certainly helped with that. Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen (love the sound of it, don't you?) makes a great underneath option while Kelvin redefines the term "vertical" threat.

State of the Defense

Even more good news is on this side of the ball, and that isn't surprising, given the late-season bloom some rookies showed.

While rookie Trai Turner really showed growth on offense, CB Bene' Benwikere and S Tre' Boston started to show up on defense. Injuries slowed Boston's start but he finished pretty well. I'm not as high on him as some others are, though. He still looks confused on some plays but that does come with the territory for all youngsters. Benwikere played like a veteran in the playoffs where Boston's inexperience was still evident. I'm hoping it's growing pains that we'll see a lot less of in 2015.

Benwikere certainly has a very high ceiling. Even on the long TD pass he gave up to Seattle in the playoffs, he actually had his man covered well. The throw was simply one of those you cannot defend against. If Stiki Wiki can cover like that all the time, or even most of the time, he'll force the QB into either further perfect throws or making more mistakes. Perfect throws are still fairly rare, so my bet is we'll start seeing more interceptions and fewer yards and scores given up when he is thrown upon. He's only going to get better from here, and it's exciting to think about the situation. A fifth-round pick is becoming what could be a shutdown corner if we're extremely fortunate, but the kid keeps getting better every week. He's bad news for WRs in 2015 and beyond.

Defensive End Kony Ealy was yet another nice rookie pick who is coming along. As I said in a previous post, it looks like beyond Greg Hardy, Wes Horton and Mario Addison have different skill sets that don't overlap much. Remember, the draft happened before the Hardy situation even arose and I think that the "Big Evil Plan" was that Charles Johnson has peaked and is only getting older so we'll need to groom a youngster to fill those shoes sometime. Then the Hardy news hit and he was out, and I think he'll be testing the free agent waters this fall. That's where Gettleman's comment shines the most light on for me. Without Hardy's franchised salary, we really could move up the food chain a nice amount in free agency. Just not for a defensive end because of Ealy's presence and play.

State of the Special Teams

I won't sugar coat things here, it's a stinkin' mess and was all season long. The only good part about it is Brad Nortman's dead-ball kick inside the five yard line, and half of that relies on coverage and positioning and is out of his hands.

Speaking of "out of his hands," that's where the @%^&#*ing ball wound up almost as often as not on punt returns, it sure seems like. Whether Philly Brown is getting illegally clocked and becoming gun-shy or Brenton Bersin's (soon-to-be-travelling) juggling act, I can't think of a time when I'd hold my breath so many times or get all patriotic in the face (red, white, and blue) seeing so many punts fielded. 

We sure could use a new punt returner...under-inflated balls or not!

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