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Saturday, April 28, 2007

Draft Day!

Today's the decisive day we'll find out who some of the new difference makers are - and here's a basic wish list of my own, short, sweet.

First round - Jamaal Anderson, Reggie Nelson, or a trade down. I'm not interested in getting topped out players like Carriker or reaching for guys like Greg Olsen.

Second round - Eric Weddle. Now a little worried he won't be there and the team supposedly likes him over Nelson and Michael Griffin.

Third round - John Wendling. We really need two safeties in the first three rounds. If not Wendling, Buster Davis.

Fourth round - a safety if not a LB, a LB if not a safety.

No huge reaches, no crazy picks. No undeveloped, unable to play guys this year. Also need a return man. I'm resigned that at least one of these things won't happen, because of contingency plans like Al Wallace and Shaun Williams. But I'm hopeful that we will, at least, not reach for guys like Rashad Butler this year.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

More Jenkins Contradiction

The media's apparently playing tennis with the Kris Jenkins situation: one side publishes a rumor, the other side volleys a return that says something completely different. Last week, for instance, it was stated that it was unlikely Jenkins would return because bridges were burned in one outlet, and in the same paper it was later reported through a different staffer that it wasn't so.

This week, Darin Gantt reported that Jenkins will likely return. This is a view I shared from the time of the leak - the team did not want the leak to get out, and the leak essentially killed trade chances.

Mild Speculation - Atlanta

Atlanta, apparently moving up to put themselves in position to get LSU's Laron Landry, have more recently been rumored to want to trade up for Calvin Johnson, the hometown phenom at WR, or may pass over Landry for Jamaal Anderson.

If Landry falls past #8, he still may not make it to 14.

But if Atlanta takes Landry, they won't move stiff youngster Jimmy Williams to S; he'll remain the starter at CB, where his limitations became clearer throughout the year. They'd get better at safety, but they'd fail to get better at CB and would have to draft a lesser player at DE.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Position Evaluations - Defense

Continuing on with the positional evaluations, we turn to the defense - a spot that has finished outside the top ten in yards and points only once (2004) but finds itself looking for an identity and a future. With Mike Minter and Mike Rucker on their way out, Dan Morgan on his last concussion, and the salary cap continuing to rise with hefty defensive salaries, the team needs to get young, and quickly.

DT - This wildcards on Kris Jenkins. If he's traded, will the team simply be dumping salary for picks, or will there be a need here? It's hard to say - Jenkins was a talent that could draw attention even when not dominating, but the team has three other tackles who have started. Damione Lewis and Maake Kemoeatu rotated, but Kemoeatu could take Jenkins' role. Jordan Carstens is a smart, able backup, and Kindal Moorehead has pass rush ability.

This is a hard one to gauge, but if Jenkins does go, I'll guess it's a second day pick fighting for a roster spot with Chad Lavalais and Moorehead; if Jenkins stays, they have more depth than will make the roster already. Whether that depth can replace Jenkins is harder to say.

DE - Julius Peppers, when re-signed, will be the league's highest paid player, but is signed through 2008 anyway. Mike Rucker stays this year, but isn't a long term situation until he proves otherwise. Rucker is a free agent in 08 anyway, but if he shows he can start, he could stay past this year.

Situational rusher Stanley McClover wowed fans in limited time but looks to be an outside-only end who can't stop the run and may have been better suited to a 3-4; he still holds promise and apparently bulked up a lot during the season. He'll make the roster. David Ball, a 3-4 end, comes to the Panthers looking to be a better fit for the 4-3. A good run stopper, Ball came out of college looking like a good rusher, something the 3-4 doesn't allow a lot for.

The team will likely use a high pick on the position if the right player is there. Jamaal Anderson is raw, but has the measurables. Adam Carriker is solid, but unexplosive and underathletic for a top 15 pick. Jarvis Moss is the right type rusher, but is too light and may be one dimensional. A later pick probably won't help as much; it's an early-or-nothing type situation and the team could still re-sign Al Wallace as depth.

OLB - Thomas Davis and James Anderson represent the theoretical future here; Na'il Diggs was brought back to start weakside, but isn't a playmaker, or good in coverage, two hallmarks of the position in a traditional 4-3. Davis struggled at times, but also had some excellent games (St. Louis: 10 tackles, 1.5 sacks; NY Giants, 7 tackles, forced fumble, one batted ball) and is entrenched strongside.

The team could use depth, depending on where Adam Seward falls - he was in the middle last year but may be a better fit backing up Davis. Anderson/Diggs is "enough" at WLB, but Anderson needs to show something soon, other than his performance against New Orleans scrubs. Since the position is low on the list, getting an impact WLB like Paul Posluszny isn't likely and later players won't have the talent to improve the position.

MLB - A possible turning point of the defense as a whole, the team has Dan Morgan and relatively little else; Adam Seward showed tons of promise in preseason 06 coming off injury, but struggled early in the season and never saw time on defense after. Chris Draft left in free agency. With Morgan's history suggesting he will miss at least half this season, the team needs a player for this season and the future.

In the first round, Patrick Willis will likely be gone; Posluszny is more of an outside player. Later in the first day could net David Harris, Buster Davis, HB Blades as inside guys with some range and impact.

CB - Unless something changes, like an unlikely trade of Chris Gamble, the team has its top 3 and as talented a trio as any in the league. The team has a solid contingent fighting for the 4th CB job, but this may also be where the team finds a return man.

S - Mayday! The defense's worst position last year has, somehow, gotten worse. Mike Minter remains, after his worst season, to play his last season. Nate Salley, who couldn't stay on the roster consistently, is the only other safety. Salley and Deke Cooper will fight for the #4 safety job, but the team needs two players here - one to start, one to take over for Minter, who the team would like to replace ASAP.

Reggie Nelson will liekly be there in the first, but if the team finds an impact end, they could wait until round two and hope Eric Weddle is still there. John Wendling, in the third, is the big body who could play SS eventually. The team could re-sign Shaun Williams to start if the newcomers aren't ready; they could re-sign Colin Branch as depth if they don't find a 2nd safety. These two moves are stopgaps, but that's what happens when you neglect a position as they have.

It's inevitable that a defense that's only had a handful of changes since 2002 would need revamping, but the team's lack of work in free agency to fill even one defensive hole has hurt the team going into draft day. Trading Jenkins would only make that worse. With an injection of youth, the defense will still be powerful, but more careful planning in the future will keep a crisis situation like the MLB/FS/SS triangle from being so blatant.

Position Evals - Offense

With the draft upcoming, here's my own version of the traditional "laundry list" evaluation and draft/future expectation, starting with the offense.

QB - Delhomme and Carr are plenty for the next two years.
Basanez may or may not be the future, and it's a good year for guys to groom, but there are likely bigger needs so don't expect anything before the 5th.

RB - Foster and Williams are a good fit for the new scheme, and the pair are both starting quality. Goings and Shelton fill out the quartet and should be all the team will need. There's an off-chance that the team could fill a backup role and kick returner in one spot, but the top 4 are all valuable and chances are, a RB will not be able to return punts as well.

FB - Hoover is aging, and the new staff may feel Goings is better suited to utility RB. It's a day 2 pick, and might be a sizeable player who can play some TE as well (think Boise St.'s Derek Schouman or TN's Cory Anderson). A player who can fill both roles, like Casey Cramer could, may buy the active roster spot to be able to keep both Nick Goings and Eric Shelton active on gameday.

WR - Steve Smith is set to sign an extension, but this is the only stable part at WR longterm. Keyshawn Johnson hinted at retirement, Drew Carter is a free agent after the year, and Keary Colbert continues to regress. Johnson is still a starter, however, and has a couple years left in him; the team may work to re-sign Carter longterm. There's a legitimate need here for a 4th WR who can work the slot in the future, and bring return skills now. Jacoby Jones of Lane College is a hot name. The team could look here 3rd round or later.

TE - Michael Gaines is considered the starter, and Jeff King could be an able #2. The team's variable on what could happen, and there's an undeniable hole here. Gaines, who got immediate play immediately as a rookie, has been inconsistent and started 21 of 42 games. Without Kris Mangum supporting, will Gaines flourish or falter?

King is the only player signed for 2008, so a player needs to be brought in somewhere. Whether it's a support player like the swing TE/FB suggested above, or a blue chip prospect liek Greg Olsen, it's hard to say. TE is the only spot on offense that can significantly improve, but the past offense used it so little it's hard to say what we have in Gaines. The wildcard is Doug Jolley, still out there in free agency and still likely cheap. Since this is the immediate need on O, Jolley may be the right guy if there's not a top prospect available better than a defender. While Olsen looks promising, the dropoff between Olsen and Zach Miller in the 2nd or even Ben Patrick in the 3rd isn't great.

OL - Returning everyone who started a game for Carolina but Todd Fordham, who has aged out, the line is also the theoretical weak point. Sack numbers were OK, but partially for scheme - pressure still got through. The zone scheme should help run blocking, but pass blocking will essentially be the same.

(OT) With Jordan Gross and Travelle Wharton being the two NFL-ready tackles, and both being free agents in 2008, the team could use depth that can start; Rashad Butler looks like an eternal project. Wharton is also coming off injury. Jeremy Bridges backs Gross, and is the only tackle under contract long-term, but may play guard. A tackle in the 4th or 5th would give them stability and allow Bridges to move inside if needed, but talent diminishes by then.

(G) Mike Wahle, now free of an injured shoulder, will be at LG still; Evan Mathis, beleaguered by inexperience, an apparent lack of lower body strength, and constantly tormented by outgoing OL coach Mike Maser, has the inside line to the job again. Will Montgomery proved stable backing Wahle; Geoff Hangartner started the year at C. The pair will fight Mathis. Another player could be welcome, and Bridges may start over all of them if they get a tackle. A player here is unlikely, the team has plenty of talented youth to concentrate on.

(C) Justin Hartwig barely saw the field, but is expected to start; Geoff Hangartner will be the backup, and is more suited to C than G. There's plenty of depth here.

The offense, at first look, is where you'd put your effort. It was the lagging end of the team, and the defense has always been a strength. However, the skill positions were all as they wanted, and the only loss is Kris Mangum's retirement at TE and the injuries along the OL. This is the core reason Dan Henning left - the team had the pieces in place to do what they wanted. Because of an inactive free agent period, the team must fill defensive needs when it could be looking at the future at TE, OT, and WR.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Rumor Mill Exports Refined Ginn

Ted Ginn is getting a lot of play lately in the media as the "it" pick, despite all rational thought or common sense. It's being led by Pat Yasinskas, who stated before that "another team thinks Carolina is going with a receiver". The team is, apparently, Pittsburgh, who may covet Ginn. There seems to be no actual rumor or indication the team itself wants, or would pick Ginn, and the chances are, the team has not made a decision in one direction or another about a pick dependent on the 13 teams ahead of them.

On the up side, the team has a long term need at receiver. Keyshawn Johnson is aging, Keary Colbert busted and Drew Carter is a free agent after 2007. The team needs a primary returner as well. Having an impact receiver, all other things neglected, is a good thing.

Nonetheless, this leaves Ginn or Carter as a 4th receiver - and that's a high price one way or the other, for a 4th guy. Carter, the #3, barely got any targets down the stretch, and Colbert as #4 got very little. Either way, a player who wouldn't have been active last year would be making over a million dollars this year. Carter makes $1.3 million this year, and Ginn's contract will likely approach $3 million per year (last year's 14 pick, Brodrick Bunkley, signed a six year, $17.5 million deal). And that's a lot to put on the shelf with only one NFL-worthy safety on this roster.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Jenkins: Conflicting Rumors

After John Clayton reported the team wouldn't be expected to unload Kris Jenkins from here out, another ESPN contemporary, Len Pasquarelli, reports that the team is expected to move him. Gaston Gazette's Steve Reed reports that a 3rd round pick is being offered, and that the team will likely accept the offer soon.

Pasquarelli had been known to have a lot of inside info specific to the Panthers in years past, especially when he was with CBS; however, to speculate, it seemed his source was Jack Bushofsky, who hasn't been with the team in a few years.

Discrepancy between insider information reports at ESPN isn't anything unique, though. It could be conflicting reports from an agent v/s the team, a rival agent or team trying to devalue, or even conflicting sources within the team with differing opinions on the situation.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Jenkins Trade Unlikely; Moorehead re-signed

ESPN's John Clayton reports that the team will keep Kris Jenkins available, but it's more and more likely that the star DT stays with the Panthers. After receiving interest from the Chiefs and Rams, interest has waned. The team will likely listen to offers until the draft.

After shopping him, the rumor likely came out as interest wanted on one side or the other. Chances are, any potential dealings would've come before the rumor even leaked, and the team is now faced with having some of its internal business aired against their wishes. Expected to want a second round pick, it's uncertain the team would receive that for Jenkins, and it's not likely that he'll go for less. Whether there's any motivational aspect to the rumor is unlikely, but it may help put a fire under Jenkins anyway.

Kindal Moorehead was re-signed Thursday, giving the Panthers their entire DT rotation from 2006. The signing is a one year deal expected to be near the minimum. Moorehead, a 2003 5th round pick out of Alabama, has only played for Carolina, has no major injuries, and is the only draft pick besides 8th overall pick Jordan Gross that remains on the roster.

With Moorehead on-board, the team retains almost every defensive player it started the 2006 season with. Exceptions? The team only retains one safety (Mike Minter) it started the season with, cut Al Wallace, and lost Chris Draft in free agency.

Getting Younger?

Speculation has arisen that the Kris Jenkins trade rumors are to spark a defensive revitalization - to get younger, cheaper. I disagree with the premise - this draft will bring needed depth and talent as it is.

Jenkins is only 27. He's signed, reasonably, through 2009. He fails the criteria of being a cumbersome contract or aging out. Replacing him would be two veterans - Maake Kemoeatu is highly paid, and Damione Lewis is a free agent after the year. The top backup in that situation, Jordan Carstens, is a free agent after the year as well. There's no push (or even room) to get younger at DT. The team needed to get younger at DE anyway - and Mike Rucker will be phased out in a year or two anyway. Jenkins gone wouldn't change that. Julius Peppers needs a huge extension regardless of Jenkins, Rucker, or anything else on the team.

The defection of Will Witherspoon last year may have spooked the team a bit; the team's lost out on mid-20s re-signings like Marlon McCree. So far, the team has passed on getting 20-something talents like Kawika Mitchell at cheap prices, and other young players like Ken Hamlin and Kevin Kaesviharn signed short term deals.

The secondary, save Minter, is young - at least one starter will be a rookie this year. Ken Lucas is next oldest at 28 - he and youngsters Gamble and Marshall are all under contract for at least two more years (Gamble, not likely to start, is the only one signed a year short of 2009). While extensions may become necessary, none of these players are going to require any heavy, long-term extensions like Peppers.

As well, linebacker isn't an old position for the team; Thomas Davis enters his third year, as does backup Adam Seward; James Anderson enters his second. Na'il Diggs, at 27, is the "old" guy in the group. Dan Morgan isn't old but will be replaced in the short term anyway. The team actually needs a bit of veteran leadership here long term.

Which leaves end and safety, as noted - two positions the team already needed. Add in a long term solution for Morgan, and the team's already much younger. Dropping Jenkins for great value is one thing; youth makes no sense. Youth will come regardless.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Schedule - with analysis

9/9 @ St Louis
9/16 Houston
9/23 @ Atlanta
9/30 Tampa Bay
10/7 @New Orleans
10/14 @ Arizona
10/28 Indianapolis
11/4 @Tennessee
11/11 Atlanta
11/18 @ Green Bay
11/25 New Orleans
12/2 San Francisco
12/9 @ Jacksonville
12/16 Seattle
12/22 Dallas
12/30 @ Tampa Bay

Easy opening, tough ending. December's especially tough, with important NFC games v/s potential contenders.

St. Louis and Houston should be a solid pair to start the season; neither are expected to be top teams yet and won't have time to gel. David Carr shouldn't be starting, so the Houston game lacks the additional drama.

Three divisional games follow, two away; the run before the bye features 4 of 6 games away, a tough run for that reason. Still, better to catch the away games early, and with a bye coming up.

Indy is a great team to catch after a bye - with plenty of preparation, the defending Champs should be a little easier to face. Following that run, a pair of running QBs will provide a unique challenge; the Atlanta game will be a key turning point. Players will be happy to have Thanksgiving week at home; if they're in the hunt, the New Orleans game at home will be critical.

It's hard to say what will happen with the Packers, Jaguars, or 49ers, but the meat of the schedule after that will be must-wins. Dallas, Seattle, and Tampa look to be strong, and the season could flip from good to bad, or turn in our favor, based on how we finish the season.

Win the home games, and we're in good shape. The away games are, besides division opponents, easy; no traditional Washington or Minnesota games, no cold away games. Aside from the division and the Rams, no domes.

Kris Jenkins Trade Shocker

No one could've seen this one coming - after boasting of "returning 21 of 22 starters", that trade rumors would come out of the team's stoic, keep-it-together approach. And there aren't but a handful of players you'd expect to be on the trading block less than Kris Jenkins.

As part of the rumor (and somewhat misinterpreted by the media), the team was reported to have felt Jenkins wasn't as good as his Pro Bowl berth implied. It was interpreted to mean that the Panthers weren't happy with Jenkins' performance. Potentially unhappy with Jenkins for not returning to workouts this offseason, and possibly seeing value on building youth on defense, the Panthers reportedly shopped Jenkins to a number of teams, including the Rams and Chiefs.

The Panthers were eagerly trying to trade defensive tackles early in the 2006 season. Keeping 10 DL overall, and 6 DTs (eventually cutting Tony Brown, who started for Tennessee), the team failed in an attempt to trade - but everyone assumed it was Brown or Kindal Moorehead on the block. Ma'ake Kemoeatu and Damione Lewis were new - and therefore not tradeable. It's relatively unlikely the team was going to get anything more for Jordan Carstens, a 2005 starter, than Brown or Moorehead.

But what if they kept 6 DTs in hopes of dropping Jenkins, but never got the value? With a Pro Bowl bid under his belt after 2005's knee injury, Jenkins' value is up to a first day pick again. Whether the team is actually unhappy with Jenkins, just want to get value and youth, or are hedging bets on Jenkins being hurt again, is harder to say, but it made the offseason much more interesting.

Carr In, Hilarity Ensues

David Carr signing this week was a positive step for Carolina. They finally filled a need in free agency, they finally landed a player they pursued, and they have legitimately made progress toward upgrading. All of these things have been sorely missed this quiet offseason, an offseason that's gotten much more busy in the past week.

Key to that business is speculation(Sportscenter stated QB controversy, NFL Total Access blazed "Carr v/s Delhomme" as a headline, stated Carolina having the "best QB tandem in the league"), and it won't get any smarter or more reasonable from here. The end result is that this is still Delhomme's team - he has to play better, but that's not about Carr's presence. Delhomme has to stumble significantly to lose his job.

If Delhomme falters and Carr steps up, it's still a positive for the team. A younger QB with a year's more experience on the field, Carr's emergence would mean fixing his problems - slow getting the ball out of his hands, taking too many sacks, locking onto receivers, and relative inability to make reads/analyze a defense.

Nonetheless, dumping Delhomme's contract simply means paying Carr that level or more - the market has gone up considerably since 2004's signing (just ask Steve Smith). And with many similarities to Delhomme but without the playmaking, Carr's sudden revival doesn't seem as likely as some may expect. And with a two year deal, he's signed shorter term than Delhomme; the ideal of Delhomme being succeeded by Carr in a natural progression is highly unlikely. There's no reason to believe Delhomme will not physically be able in two years.