Who do the Panthers have in Jason Avant?

A Character S-Avant?

Part 2: Who does Carolina have, and what do they got?

How does a guy with modest on-field production keep a roster position with the same NFL team for 8 years?  He doesn’t drop the rock and he strengthens the team in ways other than just catches, yards, and touchdowns.  This is how Jason Avant kept an active roster spot with the Eagles, and why the Panthers brought him to Carolina.

Avant’s career stats aren’t all that impressive. He’s always just been the reliable guy, who  played second or third fiddle. Braylon Edwards overshadowed Avant in college, and Kevin Curtis and Desean Jackson in the pros. Avant wasn’t ever meant to be “the” guy though. Instead, he’s the guy you can count on both on and off the field.

Year Age Tm Pos No. G GS Rec Yds Y/R TD Lng R/G Y/G Fmb AV
2006 23 PHI wr 81 8 3 7 68 9.7 1 18 0.9 8.5 1 1
2007 24 PHI wr 81 15 5 23 267 11.6 2 31 1.5 17.8 0 2
2008 25 PHI wr 81 15 6 32 377 11.8 2 31 2.1 25.1 0 3
2009 26 PHI WR 81 16 9 41 587 14.3 3 58 2.6 36.7 1 5
2010 27 PHI wr 81 16 3 51 573 11.2 1 34 3.2 35.8 0 5
2011 28 PHI wr 81 16 7 52 679 13.1 1 35 3.3 42.4 2 5
2012 29 PHI wr 81 14 6 53 648 12.2 0 39 3.8 46.3 1 4
2013 30 PHI te/WR 81 16 14 38 447 11.8 2 31 2.4 27.9 1 4
Career 116 53 297 3646 12.3 12 58 2.6 31.4 6 29
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/22/2014.

Andy Reid’s West Coast offense rarely featured a lead receiver.  Avant produced consistently, but was never really a standout.  Following Terrell Owens' departure, it seemed as if Reid preferred a democratic passing attack over featuring a receiver. Avant always remained in the mix though.  He was what Reid cherished most, a company guy who worked hard each week.  It probably didn’t hurt that Avant has crazy sick hands. In 2012, Avant was the only receiver with more than 40 catches and zero drops. Those types of numbers get you a wicked awesome song!

Avant’s value, however, extended beyond his on-field consistency.  He provided leadership, maturity, and stability to a receiving core that has had its share of disruptive personalities.  The best Eagle receivers of the last decade have all had character concerns. Skip Bayless mocked T.O. as “Team Obliterator” while with the Eagles, and Jackson has always been known as a cocky showboat whose recent parting was amidst scurrilous gang associations. Currently, the most established receiver is Riley Cooper--a guy with documented character issues.

There’s never a worry about this with Jason “Character S-Avant.” He’s known for his model character and selfless personality.  Philly.com recently pined about losing such a locker-room presence:
The Eagles will miss Avant's presence in the locker room, around the NovaCare Complex and on game days. A religious man, according to all accounts, Avant led by example but also wasn't afraid to speak up if need be. He mentored many young players, in recent years taking them under his wing in Bible study classes or after practice catching balls from the jug machine.

For the most part, I haven’t bought into the Steve Smith lockerroom disruption story line.  Gettleman, however, has clearly made it a point to bring in free agent receivers known as locker room guys. He passed on a several free agents, such as Hakeem Nick, Desean Jackson (an unlikely sign anyway), and Kenny Britt, all who have outstanding character concerns. This alone doesn’t prove that Smith was a disturbance.  It may suggest, however, that Smith wasn’t a catalyst for team solidarity either.  
Some point to Carolina’s failure to develop a #2 option alongside of Smith as evidence that he isn’t all that great at building guys up.
Maybe there is something to the idea that Cam could better develop without the former star, especially in lieu of his declining on-field production.

Cam Newton looks to be at a momentum point of his career.  He’s proven that he has the stuff to be great in the NFL.  His continued improvement under center and as a team leader suggests it’s just a matter of time.  Last season, Newton demonstrated tremendous development as a player, professional, and team leader.  Without forsaking his spirit and self-confidence, Newton improved his sideline demeanor by demonstrating an increased trust for his coaches and teammates.  You could almost see him shrug off the burden of the belief that “he alone had to win games.”  Great commanders always show faith in their troops.  Newton started bought into this idea, even in times where experience suggested otherwise.  Poor blocking, dropped passes, and stalled drives all had to wear on the new Cam and threaten to bring out the old pouty, towel headed Newton.  New Cam resisted, something though that is much easier to do when you are able to go 12-4 on the back of a league leading defense.  Carolina can’t soundly bank on this in the future.

Surrounding Newton with guys that nourish his development as a leader is just as important as surrounding him with explosive offensive weapons.  It’s the long bet, and long bets are always require the most discipline.

Avant is a guy who may recognize this as much as Gettleman.  In response to Dolphins Jonathan Martin saga, Avant wrote a piece for MMQB.com on the importance of character, leadership, and a strong lockeroom.  He wrote:

The most important part of an NFL locker room is leadership. If there isn’t good leadership, one bad apple has potential to corrupt the bunch. In Philadelphia, our franchise has had some great leaders. The spirit of Brian Dawkins, Brian Westbrook and Troy Vincent live on. Their names are mentioned a lot in organizational meetings, and Dawkins can come speak to the team any time he wants. We also have an owner, Jeffrey Lurie, who is hands-on and cordial; he has lunch with some players, and always discusses the mindset and the standards that those earlier guys raised—and I think that standard is extremely important. Why? Look at what happened this season with one of our receivers, Riley Cooper, who was caught on video using the ‘n’ word at a concert. That incident had the potential to divide us. Instead, because of strong team leadership, we worked through the issue together; we forgave Riley and we were able to grow, both as a team and as individuals—Riley included.

Newton doesn’t need to learn how to be an offensive star.  He’s done a great job of that all his life.  He does need to continue to mature as a leader and professional.  This isn’t a knock on Cam, instead it’s an endorsement of his potential greatness.  This guy has the tools to be the best ever.  He’s an athletic phenom. He’s smart, articulate, and charismatic.  He’s got it all.  There is greatness in him that needs careful cultivation and pruning. Bringing in a guy like Avant will be a stabilizing factor in Cam’s development both on and off the field.

Avant won’t put up killer numbers, but Carolina doesn’t need him to.  What he will do is exude a supportive confidence in Cam’s ability that will help catapult Newton into the stratosphere.  The Character S-Avant will not quit.  He will not shrink or deflect blame.  He will build Cam up, and make some sick one-handed grabs in the process.