Free Agency Dust Settles: Where Carolina Stands and Who is Left to Target

Free Agency Dust Settles: Where Carolina Stands and Who is Left to Target

As the dust starts to settle, Dave Gettleman is putting on his overall yes they are high above the belly button and higher from the ground and looking to get to work.  The big names are off the board.  Teams have overpaid, and Carolina will have to sift through the heap like a someone who shows up late to a church yard sale.   

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Gettleman Hopes to Find Safety in Free Agency

Gettleman Hopes to Find Safety in Free Agency

“You use free agency to set up the draft,” Panthers General Manager has repeated. It’s not sexy, but neither are the teams that usually spend big in February either. The real nookie is made in the draft because rarely do hired guns turn out to be franchise anchors. And if they do, it’s usually them just re-signing with their current team to a long-term deal.  Quarterbacks, left tackles, defensive ends, and even wide receivers are simply too expensive to buy in their prime. Maybe if a team is a piece away from a Super Bowl run, they can go after a high profile free agent.  Gettleman, however, has reiterated that long-term success is built in the draft, leaving free agency as mainly a means to maximizing draft value. 

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Randall Cobb in Carolina

Randall Cobb in Carolina

One of the best offensive weapons that the Panthers could get in the offseason is Randall Cobb. Cobb is the 2nd string wide receiver for the Green Bay Packers, and is heading for unrestricted free agency. Randall Cobb had a great 2014 season with 91 receptions for 1,287 yards, and 12 touchdowns.

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Which Free Agent Would Be Finest in Carolina?

Grab the mic Panther fans and let the nation know!  Open Mic is an open discussion thread. Just drop a comment in the comments section below.  Respond to other fans, and as always #KeepPounding

Dave Gettleman said no more dollar store.  The Panthers have a little money to spend, and it's time to get some new shiny toys.  Should it be something for Cam, something for McDermott and the defense, or should it just be something practical for Rivera to use?

Which free agent do you think would be finest in Carolina?

Here's a free agent list to choose from:

One Piece of The Draft Puzzle: Expiring Contracts

Greg HardySome people see "the Draft" as a weekend event.  In reality, "the Draft" is a 365 day process of intensive evaluation.  This process has many moving parts that all fit together to form a large puzzle-like picture.  Preparations for the 2015 draft are happening as we speak. You can bet Gettleman is breaking the pieces down, whether it is roster composition, contracts, or evaluating free agency options.

One piece of the puzzle is scouting the prospects who will be playing on Saturdays this fall, and we’ll do plenty of that here at #C3 in the coming months.  But another, more understated piece of the draft puzzle deals with knowing your own team.  GM David Gettleman has talked about this a few times and has stated how important it is to know your squad.  I’ve started looking at
our squad, well at least one part of our squad.  When it comes to knowing your own team there are different pieces to that puzzle as well.  Some of those pieces are how your players perform in 2014, injuries, aging, locker room fit (see Steve Smith) and contract status.

When preparing for the 2015 draft, you have to start by know which contracts will be up after next season.  The Panthers have 17 contracts of note that expire after the upcoming season.  Evaluating depth at these positions and then deciding where your priorities in the 2015 draft are going to be is surely on Gettleman's mind.  The contracts of note are:  Greg Hardy, Dwan Edwards, Colin Cole, Mario Addison, Byron Bell, Nate Chandler (R), Gary Williams, Chris Scott, Jason Avant, Kealoha Pilares, Chase Blackburn, Antoine Cason, James Dockery, Josh Thomas, Colin Jones, Ed Dickson and Joe Webb.  To break that down, that is four D-Linemen, four O-Lineman, four D-Backs, two WRs, one TE, one LB and one QB.  Thankfully only the Kraken could be considered a “core” player, but this number of FAs will considerably impact our depth going forward.  Also, if any of these players have breakout seasons it can impact our cap-situation as well.  So these will be positions that I will be taking an extra close look at in the upcoming Scouting-Season.
Follow me on Twitter at @PanthersDrafter for ongoing discussions and updates on these positions.  Also look for an ongoing series focusing on how each move, each game, and each injury will impact our future draft needs.

Hold Up, the Bucs Ain't Champs Yet! A Pre-Draft Evaluation of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

There's been a lot made of the Tampay Bay’s offseason free agency activity, especially hiring of Coach Lovie Smith.  The media had fawned over these additions, some already deeming the Buc’s the new division leader.  It has been busy offseason for Tampa with 17 total new faces on the roster. While there have been heaps of praise, I don’t think there has been enough coverage free agent departures and problems with important components of the team’s roster. Here's a couple of issues I see pre-draft for the Buc’s.


Secondary: Tampa is playing 3 strong safeties without a true free safety. Dshon Goldson, Major Wright, and Mark Barron all have issues in coverage and are best playing in the box. I’m interested to see how they fit in a Tampa 2 base defense. The newly added Alterraun Verner is a good solid corner who fits the Tampa 2 defense, but he's not an upgrade over Revis. 
Big questions also loom with Mike Jenkins, Jonthan Banks, and Michael Johnson.

Linebackers: Tampa has an excellent outside linebacker in Lavonte David, but then what? Mason Foster is horrible in coverage. This position has to be addressed in the draft.  I’m guessing this will be a position Tampa Bay will look to upgrade in the draft given Lovie’s history with beast linebackers in the middle, such as Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs.

Defensive line: Consisting of Gerald McCoy, Clinton McDonald, Michael Johnson, Da’Quan Bowers, and Adrian Clayborn, this line is a mixed bag of goods. McCoy is an outstanding player, but what about the rest?  Big name free agent, Michael Johnson, was brought to shore of last year’s lack of defensive push. Johnson showed promise in 2012 compiling 11.5 sacks with the Cincinnati Bengals, but that figure dropped to a mere 3.5 sacks in 2013. The Bengals do one of the league’s premier pass rushers in Geno Atkins, so it's not like Johnson didn't have help. It unclear why his production dropped so dramatically.  Some think Johnson should flourish in Lovie’sdefense, but we haven’t seen much consistency yet from the league’s, now, 4th highest paid defensive player. McDonald, a backup defensive tackle for Seattle, had 5.5 sacks last season. He could be valuable in passing situations. Bowers has yet to live up to his acclaimed draft status, and Clayborn’s future with the Bucs is a question.


Quarterback: Tampa added free agent quarterback and former Panther, Josh McCown, who played especially well in Chicago last year. There were a lot of things in McCown's favor, however, that may not be as prevalent with his new team. First, he had an offensive guru in head coach Marc Trestman. Second, Chicago has tons of offensive talent with studs Alshon Jeffrey, Brandon Marshall, Michael Bennett, Matt Forte, Eric Weems, and Devin Hester. There aren’t many teams with that type of offensive talent, and Tampa certainly isn’t one of them. Adding an experienced quarterback is a good thing, but they are currently shopping Mike "Ole Neckbones" Glennon. This most likely means they're planning on drafting a quarterback this Thursday. We’ll see how affects Tampa’s offensive direction.

Wideouts: There's been tons of national talk about the departure of Carolina's receiver corps. Nevertheless, there has been little said about Tampa’s corps, which not only lacks any threat behind Vincent Jackson, but also lacks a potent tight-end. At least Carolina added Cotchery, Avant, Underwood and Dickson.  The Bucs signed Louis Murphy and Brandon Myers, hardly an intimidating bunch. 

Offensive line: On the O'line, Tampa signed Anthony Collins but released former pro-bowler Donald Penn. They also allowed former pro-bowler Davin Joseph and Jeremy Zuttah to walk after having down years in 2013, only to replace them with Oniel Cousins, a backup from the Browns, and Evan Dietrich-Smith, an ok center from Green Bay. Carl Nicks, who is sidelined with a foot infection, still hasn't been able to practice with the team. If Carl Nicks isn't 100% by the start of the season, the Bucs could be in trouble.

The draft is Thursday and the Bucs will be looking to upgrade at quarterback, wide receiver, and offensive line. The fear of Tampa winning the division is a little bit premature. Let’s not go and crown them just yet. They have an outstanding coaching staff and some key defensive pieces, they still need a lot of work personnel wise.

Go Panthers!

By Willie Perry

Who Do the Carolina Panthers Have in Jerricho Cotchery?

Who Do the Carolina Panthers Have?

Part 1: Jerricho Cotchery
Much to do has been made of who the Panthers lost this offseason.  The exodus of Panther staples, such as Steve Smith, Jordan Gross, and Captain Munnerlyn has left fans uncertain. The uncertainty of the unknown has caused fans to flail for something to help them get their bearings, particularly on the offensive side of the roster. 

This is part one of a series meant to explore Carolina’s unknown, well less known anyway.  The series will first focus on the Panthers’ unknown receiver core because that has been the greatest cause of fan angst. Followed by an analysis of offensive additions, we’ll look at new, but more familiar, defensive players, such as Roman Harper, Antoine Casson, and Thomas Decoud. Fans need to know who we have to understand what we need.  The series will conclude with a who we added group of articles, producing the final product of: 

Who the Panthers have, who did they add, and what do they got? Let’s look at some of those mysterious wide receivers first!

Jerricho Cotchery: Panther fans, welcome back a familiar star! The
“Backyard Baller” and NC State college standout shined alongside Phillip Rivers between 2000 and 2003.  Amassing 200 catches for a whopping 3,119 yds, Cotchery ranks 2nd all-time in Wolfpack history only to Tory Holt. 

Year Tm Pos Rec Yds Y/R TD Lng Y/G
2006 NYJ WR 82 961 11.7 6 71 60.1
2007 NYJ WR 82 1130 13.8 2 50 75.3
2008 NYJ WR 71 858 12.1 5 56 53.6

Cotchery’s senior season was insane, seven 110+ yd games and one 200+ yd game.  Look at these crazy stats, and it’s a wonder why we should even have to feature Cotchery in this series. 

Rk Date School Opponent Rec Yds Avg TD
1 2003-08-30 North Carolina State Western Carolina W 5 62 12.4 1
2 2003-09-06 North Carolina State Wake Forest L 9 173 19.2 1
3 2003-09-13 North Carolina State Ohio State L 4 44 11.0 2
4 2003-09-20 North Carolina State Texas Tech W 3 56 18.7 0
5 2003-09-27 North Carolina State North Carolina W 9 217 24.1 1
6 2003-10-04 North Carolina State Georgia Tech L 5 71 14.2 1
7 2003-10-11 North Carolina State Connecticut W 4 55 13.8 0
8 2003-10-16 North Carolina State Clemson W 2 55 27.5 0
9 2003-10-25 North Carolina State Duke W 9 117 13.0 0
10 2003-11-01 North Carolina State Virginia W 7 111 15.9 1
11 2003-11-15 North Carolina State Florida State L 10 135 13.5 2
12 2003-11-22 North Carolina State Maryland L 6 102 17.0 0
13 2003-12-22 North Carolina State Kansas W 13 171 13.2 1
13 Games 86 1369 15.9 10

Provided by View Original Table
Generated 5/3/2014.

Drafted by the NY Jets in 2004, Cotchery wore green and white with multiple QBs for multiple coaches. Breaking out in 2007 with 1,130 yds and 2 TDs under an intricate Mangini offense scheme, Cotchery became the featured receiver in NY.  Although he didn’t find the end-zone too often, Cotchery hauled in 82 catches, proving himself a integral part of Mangini’s modest success. The late season collapse of 2008 was enough to push out Mangini, who finished 9-7 after leading the division early.

As the “Rex Ryan Sanchez” era commenced, Cotchery’s production declined.  Battlingly through a serious groin injury and a difficult off-season back surgery, Cotchery fell out of favor with the new regime in 09.  The groin injury was no joke by the way.  He reportedly heard it snap of this wildly awesome play.  This video alone will make happy to see this guy sporting the black and blue.  

Always known as a character guy and locker room favorite, Cotchery’s departure wasn’t as cordial as one would think.  Although there isn’t any direct evidence, numerous veiled comments suggest Cotchery and Ryan didn’t see entirely eye-to-eye. Ryan’s early coaching success triggered a confidence and flamboyance remembered with his press conferences clowning his brother, embracing the spotlight of HBO’s Hard Knock, and we can’t forget that he loves feet! 

Cotchery obviously wasn’t enamored by Ryan’s personality nor his description of his rise to power at expense of ex-coach Mangini in his autobiography, Play Like You Mean It. Cotcherydefended Mangini against Mangini against Ryan’s light jabs. Meanwhile, the Jets continually attempted to “recruit over” Cotchery by bringing in guys like ex-con Plaxico Burress and the ornery Derrick Mason.

By 2011, Cotchery had enough and requested to be traded or released.  The parting wasn’t ugly, but there was some underlying animosity, at the very minimum the relationship had become stale.

The Pittsburgh Renaissance:

Landing in Pittsburgh for the league minimum, Cotchery found himself taking a backseat to the peaking Mike Wallace, Antonio Bryant, and Emmanuel Sanders.  The departure of Wallace in 2012 and rocky 2013 start tested the Steeler’s offense, which started out 2-6 last season.  Jerricho Cotchery’s veteran experience helped, however, Pittsburgh fight tooth and nail to save that prided Steeler dignity. Although the Steelers are aging on defense, their offensive playmakers are still pretty young.  0-4 start seemed to have shaken these players, but it didn't shake the “Walls of Jerricho,” who reigned in 89 balls for 689 yards and 10 TDs last year. 

What we got:

Cotchery has been a quiet presence in the NFL. He was the quiet, productive guy that wasn't ever a star, but never fully appreciated either.  Cotchery's best opportunity to impose himself as a #1 receiver came in a time when the Jets' offense struggled to find an identity. When the Jets did finally found success under Rex Ryan, the offense was never the primary reason driver.  It was a tough nailed defense that backed a ground and pound offense.  What should have been his best years were undermined by inconsistent quarterback play and playing for teams that never manufactured consistent offensive production.  In some ways, there are a lot of similarities to former Panther Steve Smith's years in Carolina between 2008 and 20011.  The teams they played hampered their on field production more than their ability. I mean if Smith had been a Colt in between '08 and '11, he'd be a first ballot Hall of Famer for sure.

There are two things that make me happy about this pick-up: 1)  my man Cotchery has hands.  He catches everything in the same zip code.  2) the luckiest person I have ever known (who will remain anonymous), always picked Cotchery as a third receiving option on his fantasy football team.  The quiet producer helped him win a fantasy football championship or two!!! 

Cotchery never really had the best opportunity to assert himself as a #1 receiver.  He looks to have found his shot in Carolina, however, where there aren't any established receivers ahead of him in the depth chart.  Even if the Panthers grab a receiver in the first round, it's unlikely this player would assert himself as a leader among the receiving core.  The addition would need to transition from a #2 option to a #1 option throughout the year.  Cotchery will have a chance during this time to step into that leadership role.  Let' just hope he can continue the renaissance that he started in Pittsburgh last year in the Queen city.   

Would the Panthers Be Dumb to Trade for Morris Claiborne?

Could the scouts have gotten it that wrong? Is Morris Claiborne really a bust?  If he were, it would be one of epic proportions--Weeden-esque even!   

The question looms in Dallas though, as the Cowboys may be testing the trade waters for the former #6 overall pick.  Magnate owner/GM Jerry Jones, who just two years ago described Claiborne as “an elite player by the judgment of our scouts and our coaches,” may accept a 3rd round pick for what to this point has been a disappointment.  
jerry jones

Claiborne was the sexy pick of the 2012 draft.  Cornerbacks were in high demand following Patrick Peterson’s rookie success, and Jerry Jones made the flashy move, dealing a 1st and 2nd round pick to the Rams to get him.

Claiborne seemed a sure bet. Draft experts and fan writers fawned over Claiborne’s ability.  He was thought to be NFL ready--a guy good enough to step in and lock down half the field from day one.  One writer described Claiborne as a “better coverage cornerback” than his former LSU teammate, Patrick Peterson, and as having a skillset that ensured his NFL success.  He had those things that just can’t be taught— speed, size, ball skills, instincts, and intangibles.

And then there was the Wonderlic. Claiborne's 4 out of 50 was the lowest test score recorded at the combine since running back Darren Davis in 2000. The score was so low that it near forced everyone to buy his story that he blew off the test.  Claiborne tried to downplay the episode, stating:

“They say it’s an IQ test. I came to the combine for football. I looked at the test, and wasn’t any questions about football. I didn’t see no point in the test. I’m not in school anymore. I didn’t complete it. I only finished 15 or 18 questions.”

Claiborne wasn't the only one who tried to marginalize the test's predictive value.  "Not to minimize his position," Kiper disclaimed," but this isn't a quarterback, this isn't a middle linebacker, this isn't a guy that needs to memorize a dozen reads. He needs to react."  I’m not sure just how indicative Claiborne’s Wonderlic score is of his foot intelligence or actual intelligence, but it is pretty dumb to think that the test have significance. It did cause a lot of people to point and stare anyway. 

The mental side of the game looks as if it has been a bigger hurdle than the Kiper, Jones, and especially Claiborne expected. Defensive back is typically one of the more difficult positions for guys to adjust to when they get to the pros.  Not only are cornerbacks matched against the most opponents most athletic player, when they get burned it stands out. Seahawk secondary coach, Paul Moyer, summarized the difficulties athletic corners often have transitioning to the NFL, stating:

"you can get away with using them. The guys who are gifted physically but maybe weren't great players in college and are a little slower learning - those guys struggle. They're the projects - the track guys who just have speed."

Add an endless string of injuries to the mix, (head, shoulder, wrist, and ankle...make sure you sing this to the head, shoulder, knees, and toes tune) and less than stellar play on the field, and you have a mighty expensive project on your hands.
Photo Credit:  The Boys are Back

Claiborne has underperformed at best to this point, and, at the least, just plain struggled in Monte Kiffin's Tampa 2 defense. Some have suggested that this system isn't suited for Claiborne's skill set, but after two difficult season even those excuses are running thin. Claiborne quickly lost his starting job midway through 2014 after being burned by San Diego Charger rookie wideout, Keenan Allen, who accumulated 80 yards in just 3 catches.

In fairness, Claiborne wasn't the only one who struggled in Dallas last season.  The Cowboys' defense ranked among the league's worst in every statistical category.  Everyone seemed to be a poor fit in Kiffin's old school defense.  

So, would it be dumb for the Carolina Panthers to trade the 92nd pick for   a guy that hasn’t shown a ton of promise yet? No. It wouldn’t be dumb, it would be high value trade that could just pay dividends for the Panthers.

Before we get into the logistics, let’s go ahead and get it out of the way...Don’t front like you didn’t want him bad in 2012! I’ll admit it. He was the guy I was hoping would somehow slip to the Panthers.  I knew it really wasn’t going to happen, but I wanted it to. I was secretly jealous of Cowboy fans experienced when their team made the big draft splash.

The Kuechly selection was a phenomenal pick that demonstrated Hurney’s knack for great 1st round picks and his canny ability to evaluate linebacker talent. Admit it, few saw the Panthers going after a middle linebacker in the 1st round, however. Most of us at the time, myself included, thought Beason was going to be the Panther mainstay in the middle. Hindsight is 20/20 though, and we can all celebrate the Golden Boy, Luke Kuechly and be thankful we weren’t the 0nes that traded the 1st and 2nd for Claiborne.

There are four reasons that the Carolina Panthers should trade a 3rd round pick for Claiborne.

1.      Moyer’s comments above apply particularly well to Claiborne. He was much more of a project than Dallas had expected. He’s had a tough time acclimating to the pros after a college career where he relied more on athleticism than skill. He then landed on a dysfunctional team that needed him to be superstar from the get go. Now this isn’t really too much to expect from a 6th round pick that you just sacrificed 1st and 2nd round picks, but it clearly was a little more than Claiborne could handle. The stage may just have been a little too big for the rookie, and the team too dysfunctional to nourish the rookie’s development.

2.                The Mike Mitchell Model: Claiborne’s situation is slightly reminiscent of Mike Mitchell’s in Oakland. Both were athletically talented guys who still needed development While Mitchell was wasn’t the high profile, top-ten pick Claiborne was, he also found himself on a dysfunctional team that has nourished anything but development for the last decade.  

Carolina is a place where guys like Claiborne can thrive. Mitchell, who has now proven himself as a starter, was also deemed a bust prior to arriving in Carolina. The Panthers have the structure that guys like Mitchell and Claiborne can develop.  The coaching staff coaxes a lot out of a little, and that dominant front seven doesn’t leave the secondary on that proverbial island too often. If the corners do find themselves on that island, they don’t have to stay there too long when the Kraken and Charles Johnson are prowling.

3.                Great Value: A 3rd for the #6th overall, not bad! Given the Panthers needs at other positions, many don’t think they will look to address the secondary until the 3rd round anyway. Will there be a corner at #92 in this year’s draft that has the potential Claiborne does? It’s possible, but not likely.

Claiborne is scheduled to make about 4.35 million dollars this year.  Now assuming the Panthers would have to pick up his contract that would be a significant amount against the cap, and we all know the Panthers are “cap challenged.”  Claiborne only has two years left on his contract, so the bet wouldn’t be long term.  The Panthers could essentially land a top talent for 3rd round money.

4.                Wouldn’t have to be a superstar:  Even if Claiborne didn’t turn out to be the next Patrick Peterson, he has the tools to be serviceable. I know everyone loved how great Captain Munnerlyn played last year, but he is 5’8.  Can you really match this guy up against a big bodied, fast receiver?  Do you want to see Melvin White on that island against Julio Jones or Calvin Johnson (yes, we play Detroit next year)?  Would it be better to field a 3rd round draft pick, who will have a guaranteed learning curve?  Claiborne has the tools to be effective, particularly in man coverage.  He has the size and speed to get it done if supported by a strong defense.  He wouldn’t need to be a superstar, he would just need to contribute.  Carolina’s front seven may help him look like one though, they did it for Munnerlyn anyway.

It all comes back to the Wonderlic I guess in the end.  Did Claiborne get caught up in the hype and glamor of 2012 draft and simply blow off the Wonderlic test entirely, or is he functionally illiterate?  I’m not sure if it should qualify as a smart trade for the Panthers, but you would think it would have to be a least a 15 out of 50 type move.