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Sunday, March 4, 2007

Staying The Course - In Moderation, As All Things

With Marty Hurney in the press all but turning free agents away, there's a good and bad side to the way Carolina is handling things.

The good? It's financially responsible. They did make calculated risks the last two years, expecting that the deals would get worse. And truthfully, they did - Mike Wahle, Pro Bowler, for $30 million, or Derrick Dockery, an average starter, for $49 million? Ken Lucas, playing at a Pro Bowl level for $6 million a year, or Nate Clements for $10 million a year?

The bad? We're not getting better, and the team is a bit deluded if it things getting two offensive linemen back from injury, and simply changing coordinators, will solve all problems. I'm hopeful both things will make a difference, but that and a misleading 5-1 record in the division isn't enough to stay the course.

If they had Julius Peppers in for $7.5-8 million a year, one year ago, they would be nothing short of genius. If their "stay the course" situation would've netted a contract to Will Witherspoon, as a restricted free agent before 2005, we would've had a top player return for $5 million a year instead of losing him for $7 million. If Ma'ake Kemoeatu had worked out better, they'd look like masters of the game. Had Justin Hartwig suited up at all, I'm sure a number of things would've been different.

Hell, had they kept Deon Grant, they wouldn't have had to have brought in or tried or considered three existing players, three draft picks, and four free agents (so far, that is - remember, we're still not settled) in replacing him. Out of that, they got one good season of safety play, and that safety, Marlon McCree, predictably bolted for even more than Grant, a deal it would've been foolish to attempt to match. It's not even a matter of Grant being so great he couldn't be replaced. He just wasn't replaced.

The 2004 model we've already tried once? It doesn't work unless you hit just right. That year's been the only year we really went responsibly into a season, and the players we got out of that? One is realistically playing good football (Brandon Short), and for another team. The rest? Washouts.

Even the draft picks were awful - Chris Gamble's worth a few great picks a year, but is already demoted to backup status (luckily, because he's got two great corners ahead of him). Keary Colbert couldn't beat out anyone who's had more than 5 catches in a season, and Drew Carter's situationally great - but disappeared when the team needed him the most. Travelle Wharton was the best part of this draft - as an adequate left tackle. Now with a bum knee, we're left to hope he'll be as good as he was.

It's critical in this pick-and-choose, cautious form of maintaining rather than building, that we still choose well. We still need to come up with one upgrade, hopefully at TE or S. It doesn't have to be huge money, but to be at least as good as we should've been anyway, we can't just recycle everyone and hope.

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One area we do look to want to get better? Special teams. Our leading tacklers are gone. Our return men may very well be brand new (again). And it should go - everything except the three kicking game specialists. We need new blockers, returners, coverage men and gunners. This may be all that saved Danny Crossman, in possibly the team's worst year of special teams play ever.
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