By now, every free agent acquisition the Panthers have made this year has been already posted about whether on here, facebook, twitter, or dozens of other sites. I'm here to look at the bigger picture going forward and what all these signings mean for the draft.
First, fans seem to be happy with the overall off-season moves made. Bringing in some veterans to come home again, namely DE Julius Peppers and nickel-corner Captain Munnerlyn, should really have a huge stabilizing effect on the defense....so much that Dave Gettleman, the Carolina GM, traded inconsistent DE Kony Ealy to the New England Patriots for....moving up 8 whole steps in the draft from the 72nd overall pick to the 64th.
That, in and of itself, told me two things....one obvious, one not so much.
The obvious thing is that the coaching staff had given up on smoothing out Ealy's wild production swings. While tantalizingly talented and able to show off on the biggest of stages, in Super Bowl 50 where he set records for destruction himself, he would vanish for stretches of games at a time. So, out he went.
In Free Agency, the management took care of pretty much every position of "need" -- except for one:
When you consider Dave Gettleman's propensity in the past for trading UP in the draft and not back, and you consider us having the #8 pick overall, and when you consider Gettleman's obtaining even MORE draft capital in the process, albeit a tiny nudge up moving up 8 slots in the Patriots/Ealy trade, to me, it looks like Gettleman isn't finished quite yet.
Folks, he's going to make a push for Leonard Fournette.
He signed a WR from TB. Munnerlyn and Peppers, I just mentioned. Ryan Kalil's brother Matt, the LT, was brought into the fold and even troubled RT Mike Remmers inked a huge $50 million deal so the teams, in effect, swapped tackles that each team found offensive.
The linebacking corps and the DT positions were by far the two strongest positions on the roster from top to bottom, and Gettleman didn't do much there. No need. But he did sign safety Mike Adams to shore up the secondary to go with Munnerlyn and the two rising sophomore corners in Worley and Bradberry, so the defensive backfield went from shaky & green but improving to being likely one of the more solid secondaries in the NFL in one off-season.
Yet, the running back position wasn't even addressed. Some say things like "Oh, it's a deep draft; we could get a decent RB in the middle rounds." To that, I say "Possibly." However, Gettleman's M.O., historically, has been to get them in the latter rounds. I don't think he's ever drafted an RB with a pick higher than the fifth round, when he chose Cameron Artis-Payne.
My point is that we have no proven RBs behind the injury-prone but productive, tough runner in Jonathan Stewart. Stewie hits the field in 2017 being over that magical age of 30, where they generally slow down, and I believe Stewie started showing signs of it last year. Clearly, fresh blood is needed in the backfield.
If we do not take an RB at 8, we likely will be looking at the fourth-best RB, at best, being on the board, even excluding Mixon from Oklahoma, who is in the bucket with Ray Rice. Gettleman considers such players radioactive and likely won't draft him at all.
While the cost to go from #8 overall to #2 overall would be steep, I think #3 is the target that Gettleman has set up. DE Garrett from Texas A&M is easily the top-rated prospect and it's assumed the Cleveland Browns will nab him.
At #2, San Francisco is under new management and I don't see Kyle Shanahan having a running back targeted that highly, especially when his best QB gets his press from the amount of times he disrespects the very nation that gave him the opportunity to make a hundred million dollars for playing a game.
Since the Jacksonville Jaguars' moves in free agency have been numerous, but also excluding the RB position, they would appear to be Fournette's likeliest suitors in the Draft next month, which is why the Panthers need to move to #3 to have a shot at drafting him.
Now, knowing Gettleman and his up & down ideas on runners, he COULD be biding his time, hoping Fournette gets by Jacksonville at 4, THEN trade up in front of the Jets, drafting #6. That would be the Tennessee Titans' pick, and they are set solidly at RB with DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry. The price to get there won't be so steep, but comes with a very real risk of the target being gone.
So, anything from here might not happen until draft day itself, and I think Gettleman has positioned Carolina to forgo several high picks (1st-3rd-rounders) to leap-frog five spots to almost certainly draft the massively talented runner from LSU.
The Panthers look like a playoff team with their current roster, but lack much of a home-run threat either at RB, WR, OR at TE. Fournette is capable of breaking a tackle and outrunning everybody for a long gain. Stewart simply doesn't have the speed nor the elusiveness that Fournette has, and at similar sizes.
Leonard Fournette is the ONE impact player the Panthers could get that would make the offense as dangerous as the defense. If Gettleman waits for the second round, he'll miss out on Fournette, Dalvin COOK (not COOKS, folks, his name is COOK!), AND Christian McCaffrey.
Then again, Gettleman could have just wanted to get rid of Ealy to make room for the other DEs he signed/re-signed. It looks like Mario Addison is ready to play the Panthers' share of snaps on one side while Julius Peppers may get the starting nod, but will be limited to 20-25 snaps per game.
New England probably got wind of it, talked to Gettleman, and figured "eh, we'll move back 8 spots late in the 2nd round to the beginning of the 3rd to get Ealy...he was asked to do too much there." That's the "Patriot Way" is to make sure every player plays his role and don't ask him to do things outside of his assignment. Ealy has first-round talent but wound up with "fair to middlin'" intangibles as it turns out. If anybody can harness and focus Ealy on the task at hand, I'd think an organization like New England could do it.
You see, it's the nudging up in the draft part that has me thinking Gettleman is up to more than moving 8 spots for its own sake. Then again, in his mind, he's perhaps simply getting SOMETHING for an inconsistent player at a (now) deep position that he wasn't going to bring back after his rookie deal anyway, so even a small bump-up in the draft accomplished that.
As for Fournette, some say his Combine hurt his stock, but I can't see where it did. He "only" ran a 4.51 and "only" had a 29-inch vertical leap, but that's 240 pounds of brawn to jolt into motion. Newton's laws (the long-dead physicist, not the QB) said "A body at rest tends to stay at rest until a force acts upon it." That force being Fournette's legs, but the mass involved is so big I frankly didn't expect huge verticals or broad jumps. Heck, drag from the beard probably cost him two one-hundreths of a second by itself!
I did expect a slightly faster 40-time, but every RB in the top echelon seemed to be drawn to 4.50 like a magnet. Even the "smaller, shiftier" guy -- Dalvin Cook -- only ran a 4.49. His vertical was only 2" higher than Fournette's, and 40 pounds lighter. I call it all a wash.
Then there's the idea that Fournette might well be there at 8 without any shouting going on...the top-tier of this year's draft is pretty decent, with anybody drafting in the top-ten almost being unable to draft poorly, so long as they get one of the top-ten rated guys.
That would be the ideal, and if Leonard Fournette is there at #8 and Carolina PASSES on him? Well, I better find a hat made out of pizza because I'm gonna eat the thing!
As for those of you who are skeptical, just keep an eye on things. Personally, I wouldn't be surprised if Gettleman makes a move higher to ensure landing Fournette on Draft Day, but I also wouldn't be surprised if he didn't, and decided to further deepen the roster with a top safety like Malik Hooker (Jamal Adams very likely won't be there at 8) or a young DE to work in the rotation. Get a good, solid back-up RB who could start on most teams to back-up Stewie and take over when he gets dinged-up. Some are even hypnotized by WR John Ross out of Washington to the point they want us to draft him #8.
While Ross broke the clock at the Combine with a 4.22-40, he pulled up lame the last two steps with cramps, or he might have posted a sub-4.2 time. However, I don't see Ross going off the board in the top-ten, and he's ranked 19th as an overall prospect. He missed all of 2015 with knee injuries, and also played both offense and defense. He's a true one-year wonder and will come into the NFL very raw; the upside is he would be DEADLY in Carolina's play-action passing game.
I still think Fournette is Gettleman's ultimate target, agree or disagree, and he has the draft capital to actually do something about it. I personally think Fournette could change a contender into a champion, now that free agency has shored up the roster.
Oh - for those who think "#4 is too high for a running back," I point you all the way back in time to last year, where the Dallas Cowboys took some kid named Zeke Elliott.
How did that one work out?
....you can once again follow me on Twitter @Ken_Dye AKA The Commish but keep your politics to yourself. I do!
Also, happy birthday to me. I'm the big five-oh today!!!