Without a great sense of where we're going in free agency or the draft, I still feel good about where we're headed as a team. It took me a while to trust in the last regime, but I have a cautious optimism on what's happening right now.
I've gone on about the systems we intend to run but it's hard not to like the Coryell O when run right, and it's a good fit for youth, and our backs. The Jim Johnson defense is a rare one, that tends to have success and is bendable around personnel. We'll be one of the few teams running it, lucking into a DC that's run it behind a head coach that wants it and knows it.
And coaching personnel looks good. No flashy names, necessarily, but lots of shrewd moves. The coaches are familiar with the systems, and a good fit. They're either young, or highly experienced with a young counterpart. Relateable, and the teachers that Rivera stated he needed.
Of course, they've only completed part 1, the most idealistic part of a rebuild. They've picked coaches that have a similar philosophy, that fit their roles and positions. While it's not foolproof, that's the easy part. The part where they explain what they want.
THe wildcard in all this is Marty Hurney. The prior regime meant Hurney was an intermediary between the coaches and scouts. What is he now? He navigated the coaching search well, not putting too much ego into forcing his guys on Rivera. But what now?
Hurney is as good as his college and pro directors - I have no idea about Mark Koncz, but when we relied on bigtime names, we failed. Don Gregory remains a top-flight college scouting director, and we draft very well when we don't panic and decide to trade up for something.
I can say this - I never blamed John Fox for not being more accessible, or more quotable. He's worried about his football team, not the press page. The media begrudged him for it. Ron Rivera isn't a star coach, but he's accessible, and it's a nice change. May change again once he's been at it a while, but to see him quoted in national articles as the Carolina coach about things unrelated to the team is a first.
I feel like the repairing of this franchise is under way. Not a patching, but an honest push toward tearing down what's damaged and starting over.
So with a coaching staff in place, what's the next step?
With 28 pending free agents, no new labor contract, and having the most important draft pick since their initial one, Carolina has plenty to focus on.
They intend to make signing free agents Ryan Kalil, Charles Johnson, Thomas Davis, and others a priority - a wide array of players that want to stay, and and they know who'll be available when they draft, one thing no one else can say.
But it gets muddy from there. What labor situation will exist in two months? How much cap room will they have, and how will that impact how they intend to spend their money? What will that top pick cost?
Piling it on worse is the idea of contingency plans - what if you spent tons of time and effort on free agents, your own included, and suddenly the arrangement was to extend the current CBA by a year and remain uncapped? Suddenly, most of your upcoming free agents are RFA. You're bringing Richard Marshall back, for instance, or you have the ability to trade him (which would probably make both sides happy in that situation). You go from having two starting level LBs under contract to four. You suddenly have a veteran quarterback.
And the pool of guys you can draw from becomes so much smaller (again).
And that's the thing about this - it's racing headlong into darkness, until we know otherwise. If/when there's a labor contract, teams may have two weeks or less (who knows) to prepare for free agency - which means crafting deals very quickly under brand new rules to retain players before anyone else has a shot at them. It means possibly franchise tagging a player without knowing what that will actually mean for that player or in the new deal.