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Friday, May 11, 2007

Smith Extended

Just days after I suggested doing so here, the Panthers have extended star WR Steve Smith. Between the time the signing was announced and the time terms were announced, I guessed 6 years, $44 million based on market contracts - Smith signed for 6 years, $45 million.

Extending Smith is a very smart move, especially after making Smith the undisputed receiver on this team. Not that Keyshawn Johnson was the threat Smith is, but the up and coming youth of the team certainly isn't, and Smith is thrust in more of a leadership role as well.

Now the team needs to turn to Julius Peppers, lock that deal up, and possibly toward Jordan Gross. Peppers, undoubtedly, deserves the megadeal he will inevitably sign; it's hard to gauge Gross' value to the team or his value versus mediocre linemen signing huge deals. Leonard Davis, for instance, signed for $7.1 milion this offseason; Davis wasn't anywhere near the player he should've been and isn't at all dominant.

Neither is Gross, though; while he rarely gives up big sack numbers at any point, he routinely gives up too much space. While working with Jeff Davidson and new OL coach Dave Magazu might help, it's largely a function of his leg strength and it seems Gross just isn't the type player the Panthers thought he'd be with a top ten pick. Whether the team feels as if that's true or not, of course, is the gauge on which Gross would get re-signed, and it's not certain he gets re-signed this year (or at all).

Friday, May 4, 2007

Sign Steve Smith Now

While some feel that a Julius Peppers contract extension is the higher priority, the Keyshawn Johnson release makes the Steve Smith contract a bigger priority. The team will have to rely on him for their passing game again, and anything that will happen from here on will cost them.

If the team waits until next year, the price will only go up - though Smith missed two games, his production dropped by 20 receptions last year, and this year will look a lot more like the 103 catch, 1500 yard season of 2005. Seasons like that cost - they don't cost a year after an extension the way it would before one. He could make a Pro Bowl, regardless of numbers that high, which costs.

It's not as if Smith will have an average year, and the running game will be the main focus. 2003's offense was that way, and Smith still made that into a huge year for himself. Injury, should it happen, won't make the price go down, either. The longer the team waits, the more the price will go up.

The team owes Smith, who signed in 2004 having only proven himself one year, a new contract. No question. There's also something to be said for signing when the market is right, and this year the market isn't ridiculous for receivers. Before rookies like Calvin Johnson sign, or Ted Ginn, Steve Smith needs to get his. He deserves it, and no matter how much he deserves it, signing him now versus later gives the more sensible deal.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Keyshawn Cut a Shocker

Keyshawn Johnson was released yesterday afternoon, and I'm still shocked.

I take the team at its word - this wasn't a personality issue, this wasn't something Keyshawn had done or "earned". I believe that there wasn't really that much of an issue with interaction between he and Smith, or with Delhomme, or with Fox. But if it isn't, why take the steps toward improving the team with a player like Dwayne Jarrett only to hurt the team's talent by cutting Johnson?

Jarrett, Carter, and Robinson aren't where Keyshawn is right now. They shouldn't need to be, and if the team had wanted Carter to start they could've foregone the Johnson signing and simply found a solid backup in the Ricky Proehl mold. If the team is expecting Jarrett to be Johnson from opening day, they're taking a big risk in doing so. They're probably not doing themselves any favors by giving another egotistical receiver exactly what he wants, either.

One rumor suggests that Keyshawn wouldn't own his part of problems, including some late-game interceptions that some blamed on Delhomme, some blamed on Johnson. These situations I put squarely in between the two; I don't know that Keyshawn not taking blame for this would cause a cut. In the rumor, it says that "a prominent official" in the organization suggested that Keyshawn "take the blame" and he wouldn't. I don't know how credible the rumor is.

I was shocked that we went after a posession receiver when we signed Johnson. We hadn't run the routes that Keyshawn would need, and hadn't used Muhsin Muhammad that way. I was glad, once he got in, expecting that third down would improve and our goal offense would be powerful. It was fun having one of the more storied players of our time as a supporting player, lending credibility to the team and the offense. It was good to see him join the team - exciting. It's disappointing to see the team let him go after one year, without anything accomplished.

70 receptions won't be especially easy to replace, and it's hard to make the team better when you're taking steps to remove talent.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Draft Day 1: Value Over Need

25. Jon Beason, LB, Miami
45. Dwayne Jarrett, WR, USC
59. Ryan Kalil, C, USC
83. Charles Johnson, DE, Georgia

Coming into this draft, I was dead set against a receiver or an offensive lineman in the first day. Too many other needs, too many things we'd be putting aside. And yet we came up with one of each - and a C/G instead of a tackle, a receiver who can't return punts (though Cam Cameron had a hard time selling that idea anyway in Miami).

At first, it was hard to figure what was happening - a trade was sensible, but not getting a safety in the first gave expectation that one would come. And none ever did. That left the day cloudy, but it soon became clearer that the team had added significant talent.

Jarrett was the top player I had rated at 45. Kalil was undoubtedly the best player and best lineman, a guy I had over the guys who'd already gone at guard (Grubbs, Blaylock) and tackle (Ugoh). The pair were first round talents, one of which we generated out of the trade from 14 to 25.

I had lobbied for Johnson, the end, at 45 once the safeties were gone. I lobbied harder at 59. I was very pleased to see him last after getting a trio of first round talents.

Losing Merriwether, supposedly the other option at 25 if he'd lasted, hurt. We still have no idea what will happen at safety, but the team suggests they have it covered. If they do? They've added excellent value. If you pretend the team took care of free agent needs the way they should've, this is the draft they needed. Needs for the near future at WR and end and an immediate need along the OL were obscured by other concerns. The team got great players at these positions - now the worry lies in fixing the needs they already had.