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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Panthers 2010 Free Agents

As Carolina nears the start of the 2010 fiscal year, here's a quick analysis of their unrestricted free agents.

Julius Peppers - Peppers was free to leave when he didn't receive the franchise tag this week. Peppers may be the biggest free agent available this year, and certainly the biggest Carolina will have let go (he's the first tagged player to leave the Panthers within the year he's tagged). At 30, and with his history of possibly taking plays off, Peppers may not be the highest paid free agent however.

Muhsin Muhammad - Clearly, Moose has some left to give. His age (he's exactly a year younger than the franchise itself) is concerning, but he still caught over 50 balls last year in a terrible pass offense.

Keydrick Vincent - A 10 year veteran at guard, Vincent was the 2008 sweepstakes winner of veterans vying for the job. However, he gets turned in pass protection, which leads to penalties. He was the 7th best lineman we had, the worst of the starting five and not better than reserves Schwartz and Bernadeau.

Hollis Thomas - The exuberant 14 year DT helped against the run - a lot, actually. He's huge, and he stopped the bleeding. Still, he doesn't fit the scheme well, and we're deep at DT (if not exceptionally talented).

Josh McCown - the Dolph Lundgren look-alike is the most efficient of the Carolina QBs. He's had big passing days, but never has turned the corner to become a bigger player. The team likes him, and he beat out Matt Moore.

Restricted and Exclusive-rights free agents have to be tendered offers by 3/4, Thursday.

Analysis of the group at large:
A lot of veteran depth, especially on the lines, might be walking out the door. The team has a good, young core there, but on a team lacking in as much veteran leadership as in the past, it's hard to suggest they can let all of their leaders go.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Rodgers Inherits 32nd Ranked Special Teams

http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/spt/stories/021410dnspospecialteams.3df2052.html

Rick Gosselin's ground-breaking special teams rankings show Carolina as dead last cumulatively. The team obviously did struggle, and finished up by canning special teams man Danny Crossman at the end of the year. Jeff Rodgers, who was with the team in 2009 as well, steps up to inherit the dead-last unit.


Carolina tied for 12th in the league in 2008, buoyed by the consistent strength of specialists Jason Baker, John Kasay, Jason Kyle, and the addition of strong-legged kickoff man Rhys Lloyd. Lloyd's inconsistency, teamed with the loss of numerous special teams stars, helped the team drop from middle of the pack to last.

Mark Jones' defection (and later flirting with the team while injured) hurt - the team lost five yards per kick return and three per punt return without Jones. Special teams captain Nick Goings wasn't retained, and ace special teamer Donte Curry (who was singled out by Jake Delhomme as being missed) didn't stay either. Dante Wesley was the only veteran special teamer kept, and he figured in the mix on defense as well (playing the dime and nickel LB roles after Thomas Davis was hurt). He's a free agent now, but hopes to return. Jason Kyle, experienced snapper, left to give the team uncertainty - but luckily trading for J. J. Jansen didn't hurt them.

With the Julius Peppers saga, along with deals for Chris Gamble and Jordan Gross,
veteran salaries for backups became a premium - not only special teams lost out, offensive and defensive line, defensive back cost as well. Only linebacker had experienced depth, and even then Quentin Culbertson and Jordan Senn (late season additions) quickly impressed to take over the special teams roles from vets like James Anderson.

At any rate, the team looks to 2010 in flux. If they can keep Wesley, and add onto their depth at LB, S, find a returner from the young guys they brought in over the last two years, they might improve. As of now, there's nowhere to go but up.

Smith Wants a Faster Receiver

In a quick interview with the Observer, Steve Smith openly pushed for faster help at WR in statements that pined for the way the Saints do things, while subtly (and possibly accidentally) taking a shot at the coaching staff and his fellow receivers.

It's hard to say whether it was all quarterback, or somewhat an issue with the receivers as well, but the WRs didn't produce in 2009. The second and third receivers, Muhsin Muhammad and Dwayne Jarrett, scored one touchdown apiece. Muhammad had similar receiving numbers to 2008, but scored four more times. The tight ends picked up some of the slack, but it was clear that in many games Smith was shut down by defenses keying on him, and in others (like the Jets game), Smith was handled one on one.

Was it all the quarterback? Jake Delhomme did struggle. Matt Moore did find a way to get the ball into the endzone, and to Smith. The team does have the ability to change things around, however. It's unlikely they'd go with a trade, for Brandon Marshall (attitude, not enough balls to go around) or Anquan Boldin (injury history). They don't have the cap space or the picks to give up to those players.

It's not certain whether Smith was thinking of his teammates when mentally replacing them (there's no doubt whether or not Muhammad or Jarrett are faster than Smith), but it does impact them. Muhammad, a free agent, would give way to Jarrett, who has a year left on his deal, if not re-signed. Muhammad's vast experience at 36 is a polar opposite of the 23 year old Jarrett's one good game under his belt. For what it's worth, Smith lobbied for Muhammad two years ago, and has too big a heart to say he'd want Muhammad gone. But questions inside Smith of his own longevity have to instill some in Muhammad's.

Another issue is Smith's drive and dedication as well. Clearly, 2009 took a toll on him. It's also not the first time he's calmly suggested mortality or a lessening role (before, he's suggested he could move into the slot WR role). Does that mean Smith himself might be tired, at 30, of the grind? Does he feel (as he said this time last year) that he's lost a step? Is the ego simply wanting the "no, man, you're better than ever" reassurance, or has the warrior lost the fire?

Regardless of the mechanics within Smith, the players around him, or the potential signal caller getting him the ball, the offense is essentially filled and the two spots they'd need most (QB, and that supposedly faster player at WR) are almost assuredly coming through the draft if at all. And as we found with Jarrett and others, there's a timetable on getting those players up to speed.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Peppers: No Contact

It's that time of year again (the annual questions of Julius Peppers' contract), and the second annual performance for Julius Peppers' agent, Carl Carey. Luckily, the camp hasn't made demands about the franchise tag or not playing for Carolina, and have even found a way to not say that they'll limit themselves to 4 teams. They actually even went as far as to say "31 teams", since they believe no contact from Marty Hurney rules Carolina out as one of the options.

Carolina has between now and 2/25/2010 to franchise tag Peppers, and then attempt to deal him away or sign him to a new deal. Carolina's silence is odd, but most likely a sign from above Hurney. There's no doubt that Jerry Richardson has conflicting thoughts about his franchise player, especially in reaction to the Collective Bargaining talks. Trading or leaving Peppers behind is a stronger fiscal move, and Richardson might take that tack to help labor unrest. Similarly, it's hard to strive for fiscal responsibility and better labor relations if you're paying 15% of your cap for one player.

Still, the want for immortality in a franchise must bear weight on an aging owner, and that first Hall of Fame for a player in only your franchise's uniform must weigh on his mind, too. Peppers does appear to be headed toward that honor one day, and if he were able to keep his 10-sack a year pace up along with 2 or 3 incredible plays on voters' minds, he'd make the Hall. Jacksonville doesn't have anyone on that level on the horizon, New Orleans only now put a player in, Rickey Jackson.

Carolina has flirted with a few - Reggie White obviously played here a year, and Sam Mills gets a few votes, but Kevin Greene will have a better shot at getting in than Mills. They weren't 'ours', but Peppers would be. And he makes us better.

The key, at this point, is whether he's better at making us better than a first round pick, plus the money to bolster the pockets of Ryan Kalil, Thomas Davis, and Richard Marshall can.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Panthers Promote Rodgers

http://www.panthers.com/team/coaches/jeff-rodgers/ec96952f-304f-4394-aa02-b0c1589c86bb

The team announced that Jeff Rodgers, assistant special teams coach, has been promoted to the position vacated by former special teams coach Danny Crossman's firing. The team never openly stated any other candidates, though certainly others were interviewed.

The team clearly wanted Bobby April and had intended on offering him the position, but the timing wasn't right - he'd already accepted a job with Philadelphia in a surprise move. The move itself was well overdue - days if not years would've helped.

In my opinion, Bruce DeHaven was the hire needed. Rodgers, however, fits the profile they've built on in the last two years - young, energetic, pedigreed (and, most likely, cheap). He's had success in the league, and excelled in college. At the worst, change is change.