It’s not personal; it’s just business. Still, if anyone were to say that the Carolina Panthers would be the next team to clean house, most betting men would take the under. And now, they would be out a plethora of dollars because of it.
The Panthers are four years removed from representing the NFC in Super Bowl 50. A 15-1 season led by MVP Cam Newton put Ron Rivera’s team on the map thanks to a stellar offensive line. The defense, led by Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, was a top-10 unit and fierce foe, the secondary alone featured a Pro Bowl cornerback in Josh Norman and veterans Roman Harper and Kurt Coleman patrolling deep.
Teams gradually say goodbye to players one by one. Four years removed, Carolina is entering a full rebuild mode. Out with the old and in with the new, yet perhaps not improved.
With the recent release of Cam Newton, all of the standouts from that NFC title team are gone. Rivera was sent packing midseason and now will call the shots in our nation’s capital, bringing along Davis while letting Norman walk. Greg Olsen will try to continue his career in Seattle. Trai Turner, the final piece to the line that allowed Newton to lead the No.1 offense that year, was traded to Los Angeles.
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) March 24, 2020
Kuechly, Harper, and a plethora of other talent have headed to retirement as the All-Pro linebacker calling it quits last season. And with the new faces of the Carolina Panthers team in Christian McCaffery, DJ Moore, Brian Burns, and Thompson, Matt Rhule will need to create magic in a now Tom Brady and Drew Brees led NFC South.
Still, perhaps the team could have been set with a sound man under center. Newton, when healthy, has been considered one of the top players at his position since entering the league in 2010. Rhule even said he was ecstatic for the chance to work with Newton at the start of his NFL coaching career.
“From my perspective, I’m unbelievably excited to get to work with Cam. Coming from the outside, you kind of know as a fan, but just on a personal note-getting to know him, he is a diligent guy,” Rhule said at the NFL Combine. He’s working so hard both in Atlanta and in Carolina to get himself healthy. You meet him, he’s this massive man, impressive man, and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know him.
“I’m excited to get him healthy. Obviously, that’s the number one goal for us. He’s doing a great job of doing his part. We have to make sure we’re doing our part as we try to get him healthy for the 2020 season.”
Best believe in taking what is said at the podium with a grain of salt. Once the ink dried on Teddy Bridgewater’s three-year $63 million deal, Newton was as good as caught in the Panther’s snare of trade bait.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 17, 2020
No one nibbled on the line, so Marty Hurney and Co. cut their losses and cast Newton out into the free-agent pool.
The Carolina Panthers will now build for the future. Rhule likely understands that the plan is to begin contention in 2021 while creating the pieces for the start of the new decade. The team garnered a fifth-round pick for Kyle Allen, who likely will never see the field so long as Dwayne Haskins is the man for the job.
The backup role will be a familiar one for Rhule with XFL star PJ Walker. The two brought back-to-back 10-win seasons for Temple before parting way the same year. On Tuesday, Rhule added his third former player by inking former Temple standout Robby Anderson to a two-year deal.
Robby Anderson at Temple😳
The no. 1 free agent WR available.pic.twitter.com/VmeSPf5SET
— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) March 19, 2020
And who’s to say the Carolina Panthers is done on the market. Every player could be up for grabs in the coming weeks, including someone like McCaffery, Moore, or Burns, for that matter? Teams who are on the rebuild will send anyone out the door as proven down in South Beach last season.
McCaffery is a dual-threat weapon on the ground and with his hands who could garner a hefty return. With a running back market slowly dwindling away, perhaps for the right price would send the former No.8 off to another team before his agent calls for a new deal. Should Hurney and Rhule want to start fresh with their own roster, any player could be headed out the door for draft picks.
Even if the team were to keep veterans and contend, there still could be concerns under center. Bridgewater excelled in a minor role for the Saints last season as the starter for five games. The former Vikings franchise quarterback threw for 1,384 yards and nine touchdowns against a pair of interceptions. Still, Bridgewater surpassed the 300-yard maker once, and it was against the 30th ranked pass defense in Tampa Bay.
If Bridgewater stalls, Carolina will be reduced to relying on McCaffery to be the leader of the offense while their new signal-caller is nothing less than a game-manger. If his numbers are similar to 2019, that will only drive the former Stanford runner’s value up, leading to a higher payday when his contract expires in 2021.
The greatest long-term backfield tandem that never was.
Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey.
— John Ellis (@OnePantherPlace) March 24, 2020
The 23rd ranked defense will have holes to fill in early April. On top of losing Kuechly, the Panthers let Mario Addison and Vernon Butler walk to Brandon Beane’s Buffalo while also releasing Eric Reid. The seventh overall pick will likely be used on defense, and either Auburn’s Derrick Brown or Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons should be at the top of the board.
That’s even if the team decides to stay put instead of hauling in a payday moving back.
Carolina has more questions than answers as the offseason turns to April. A fierce division, plus a plethora of areas still needing improvement, Rhule and Co. will be in line for a difficult first season.
It’s the end of an era in the Queen City with the departure of the former No.1 overall pick. For now, Newton has options if he can prove he’s healthy.
The team he left? They’ll be gambling this season is one filled with more mishaps than their offseason.