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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Big Three Contingency

Ryan Kalil, Deangelo Williams, and Charles Johnson are all sought for new contracts by the Carolina Panthers. They're all pending free agents, and there's a stated plan to bring them all back. But plans always require contingency.


Johnson's departure would have them keep Tyler Brayton (who went from a solid all-around player, to preseason sack-stud, to creating no regular season pressure at all), who they might otherwise cut or reduce his role. Greg Hardy and Everette Brown are OK young pass rushers who should grow, but it might force them to take a similar player to Johnson in Daquan Bowers, who may not fit as well in the new defense (which zone blitzes a lot, leaving the need for athleticism). Bowers is exceptionally talented at playing end but not a dominant rusher. The other options would decline from there, and turn a

There's no reason to think Kalil won't be here. As franchise player, he's guaranteed to be here unless he holds out (and he definitely won't), or is traded (he won't be). But the options narrow quickly without him - Mackenzie Bernadeau is a modestly experienced center that's struggled everywhere but LG. Veteran options exist, but Kalil would've been the top FA. It's quickly apparent when looking at other options, why Kalil was the tagged player.

Williams' contingency is obvious and apparent as well - Jon Stewart, Mike Goodson, and Tyrell Sutton can all be solid. Josh Vaughn is a step down, but they like him, too. Vaughn is not Williams, but for a team that wants to throw more, the 4th best back doesn't have to be the critical piece.

Shockey: Misfit; Newton and QB speed

There's no doubt that Jeremy Shockey can play, and he fits the vertical offense we want to run.

At 30, speed is a bit of a concern, and he can't stay consistently healthy. It's not a Bob Sanders level injury concern, but he misses time every season now. His attitude is a concern, and clashing with Steve Smith is clearly a situation you'd need to watch.

Since the labor situation makes it unlikely they'll sign him anyway, it's all but meaningless that he's in for a visit. It's still a positive step forward from previous ideals.



Tons going around about Cam Newton. I don't like him, and don't think he's suddenly reformed because his agent is feeding him lines anymore than his charisma makes him less of a project.

His 4.58 40 shows his athleticism, which is good - and what we knew. Of course, this offense isn't predicated behind QB draws and option runs, but it can be useful. Some of the Coryell Offense's ideals come from 5 and 7 step drops that are predicated on quick drops, quick release, and hitting the release right on that odd-numbered step - no holding the ball, no time to sit and read. He, and Jake Locker, fit that part. Both, of course, need even the most basic of coaching, though.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Creative: RFA

The RFA situation with Charles Johnson and Deangelo Williams is brilliant. The team announced today they'd place RFA on both, an unprecedented move.

The team apparently can't put either on transition tag (which would essentially only guarantee right of refusal on matching contracts) since they don't have 6 years accrued. The RFA situation applies only to the CBA as it sat for 2010 (before that it only applied to players with three years experience; last year, the uncapped situation pushed it to 4th and 5th year players).

At best, it shows a commitment that already existed - a commitment to keep both players. Since it's doubtful players will allow themselves to vote in a situation where players over 4 years have less rights on their freedom, the RFA tags will have no real bearing. Only way I'd anticipate that? If, at the last minute, both sides agree to continue 2011 under 2010 rules, which I've never heard actually suggested by either side.



Given that the CBA has caused Carolina infinite amounts of problems (forcing them to not extend youth, their mantra; forcing huge cap hits on players they'd otherwise cut; forcing a huge purge in 2010), it's good to see them push the envelope on what they can do with the lack of a new CBA, for once.

Various league sources suggest that the Panthers will tender more players - most of their 28 free agents are under 6 years experience - and that other teams may follow suit. It'd be smart to not deliberate extensively over who to tender, however, since again this seems to be a temporary move that won't matter.

The Next Step

With Ryan Kalil tagged, it looks like the front office is playing a waiting game for a new CBA. Kalil, Deangelo Williams, and Charles Johnson all expressed a feeling that the team wants all three players, that deals are possible, and that the players themselves want to stay.

Granted, all players, when asked a bit before free agency, are probably going to say they want to stay**, but it sounds like there's a legitimate plan to put new contracts in hands as soon as possible.

(**Richard Marshall is an exception, but then again he expressed disappointment in going to a team with two starters at CB, and talked huge contract while he was still a nickel back. For those efforts, Carolina has leaked that he won't be back. It doesn't seem worth the effort to negotiate.)

So what are we legitimately looking at?

*With Kalil in hand, the expectation would be to lock up Johnson and then Williams, hopefully in that order. They'll look for a long term deal for CJ, which could spread out the cap hit on a young player. Assuming a CBA that allows deals 6 years or more, I'd expect a 7 year deal with a third year buy-in option that would otherwise drop it to a 4 year deal (with a heavy penalty for not picking up the option). I'd anticipate a deal in the $8-9 million range, based on market. That would put him in the second tier of DE, realistic for players

*With Williams, it's much harder to say. Carolina will want a shorter term deal, whereas Williams will look for security. A 4 year deal tends to be very heavy on bonus and salary, with no ramp-up period for lower salaries, but a 6-7 year deal rarely works out for teams dealing with starting RB (Shaun Alexander was cut within two years of his second contract, and a Pro Bowler when he signed it).

There aren't a lot of contracts for top RB out right now, and none for players who split carries, so value is a tough consideration right now. Maurice Jones-Drew received 5 years, $31M, with $17.5M in total guarantees, in 09. Stephen Jackson signed for 5 years, $48.5 million. So will the carry split hurt his value? Will his value to another team inevitably be more as a feature back? If I had to guess, and I've had a reasonable guess at recent contracts, the Panthers will start out at $7 million and Williams will start out at $9.5 million, with the differences being guarantees (which are harder to negotiate around).

I can't say if Carolina will pay $8 million or more for a part time starter, one that was somewhat unreliable over time for injury and turns 28 this offseason (which gives DW a career lifespan of 3-4 years at best). There's also the consideration of Jonathan Stewart continuing to be a greater force, and that he only has two years left. Having to choose could mean Stewart is gone in 2013, and paying a 30 year old Williams $9 million to do more work.

*Thomas Davis seems to be the team's choice at WLB, and that's reasonable. While the Tampa 2 was a better fit for him, he's still a powerful star in space and the concepts aren't much different in the Jim Johnson D (the SLB and MLB blitz more, and the WLB still contains more). James Anderson played lights out last year but was a better cover 2 fit in the SLB spot, and never really had the instinct for WLB. He's not a freelance player, and not a powerful athlete like Davis or Beason (JA and JB are similar in 40 time, but Beason's both more athletic laterally, in short space, and more importantly instinctive). Hard to say what Davis will command, but the team has made him a priority, and they should know by this point that he's recovered from surgery.

After that, I doubt there's room for much negotiation before free agency, and that's if all that happens before the draft. Since the team seems to have a plan handy, they can act quickly (many of these deals are delinquent anyway). If not, and they end up with just Kalil out of this, they've failed.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Kalil Tagged

As anticipated, Ryan Kalil is the Panthers' 2011 franchise player.

Kalil, along with Deangelo Williams and Charles Johnson, were logical candidates. Without any ability to negotiate, it looks like they went with the player they could least afford to replace, but the major news orgs state they want to keep all three, and have already said they want Thomas Davis, too.

Kalil will cost around $10 Million as a franchise player, which hopefully will just mean they'll have time to work on a deal (preferaby after they wrap up the other three). A long term deal, which will likely eclipse these deals, will probably cost $8 million or more.

Prior attempts at a Kalil contract would've been thwarted by the 30% rule, stating that salary can't increase from a final year salary to a new contract salary by more than 30%. That would've caused exorbitant signing and option bonus money. Consider:

Kalil, for sake of clean math, would make $500k in his final year, meaning he'd not be able to get more than $650,000 in salary. Given that interior linemen at his level now go for $8 million or so, almost all of that money per year would come from bonus. $8 million over a term of 4 years is $32 million, and only $4 million would be base salary. That's an exceptional amount of contract guarantee, unheard of honesty. Since that money is guaranteed, Carolina would have no recourse if they had to cut or trade Kalil - that money just counts against the cap and accelerates if he's moved.

Now, the CBA won't likely have such a stupid clause in it from next year, but until now, that would've been what Carolina would need to work under.

So, the old CBA rules continue to screw Carolina, but if they can get at least two of these guys back along with Davis, they'll at least have come out of the aftermath younger, with a little cap room.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Rivera: Tag Coming; Who?

Ron Rivera recently interviewed with ProfootballTalk, mentioning that Carolina definitely would use a Franchise Tag.

More recently it's come up that they won't use it on RB Deangelo Williams, apparently intending to use it on C Ryan Kalil.


I don't have a problem with making Kalil the priority, it's always been assumed that he would remain here. It's an assumption, as well, that he will garner a record-breaking contract for his position, or at least come very close. Nick Mangold signed, before the start of this season, a 7 year, $55 million contract - Mangold is better, but Kalil has earned two Pro Bowls in a row and appears to be the best NFC center over the last few years.

But, again it's assumed that he would be here. Franchising him guarantees it, but it seemed to be a fair guarantee he'd be signed.

Deangelo Williams wasn't guaranteed, and still isn't apparently.

Furthermore, there's nothing allowing the Panthers leverage to move Williams, if they didn't put him in their plans.

So, we can't unload Williams if he doesn't sign, or if his demands are higher than we want for a guy who'll get less carries this year.

We don't have to have Williams - two great backs is a luxury if you believe Jonathan Stewart will be healthier than Williams (he hasn't missed games, Williams has; Stewart never can practice, however), but in a RB-weak draft, and what some feel is a weak draft anyway, wouldn't it be great to exchange Williams for a late-first round CB?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Rivera on Smith

Ron Rivera likes to talk.

He's no chatterbox, and he's no deceiver. But he talks to the media, unlike his predecessor, and he talks about things you want to know. He says it plainly, and without doubletalk. You can tell this guy's going to get a long leash with the media.

On Steve Smith, he addresses something neither the team nor the media have really said - that they're willing to shop Smith if he wants. Smith hasn't said anything - good, if he wants to actually have any trade value - but he's unhappy - again, good, I would be.

But it's highly unlikely the team wants to let him go. They just feel like it's time, if he's interested. Almost a 'now or never'.

Rivera seems to put a caveat to that "now" - wait until after minicamp.

That gives the team a chance to see if it fits with him - and it should, this is a more vertical offense than he's been used to. The end result is that the moody Smith, who had 46 receptions last year, has to bring in twice that, and obviously more than double the mediocre 554 yards and 2 TDs.

Coach Chudzinski could certainly use him - can't go vertical in this offense without an established deep threat, and can't use the under routes without pushing deep. Smith thrives on both when given the option. The ball will actually be thrown this year, and Smith would cease to be a 3rd option behind the 2nd TE and the 3rd RB, the two big 3rd down threats this year.

But while it seems like a good fit, it has to be a good fit for Carolina, too. If Smith takes this as an invitation for leverage or to get preferential treatment, that won't work. He has to be ready to work, and work hard. They want a leader there, and if Smith isn't dedicated to it he may not be the one deciding where he plays.

A Case For Cronyism

The worries of the buddy system have long plagued the NFL - bringing you the succession of Richie Pettitbon and Rich Kotite at times, screwing up and comers for old friends. I'm sure Ron Rivera can tell you about losing out on jobs.

But what might initially seem like a bunch of nepotism and cronyism is often a matter of trust. It doesn't guarantee success, but nothing does. The buddy system isn't foolproof, it just gives you less unknowns. If I'm a coach, I want guys I know - they know my system, they know what to expect, they know how I work and I know how they do.

And, sure, there are coaches' sons in the league. Some have to get their start under dear old dad, doing menial work. What's the honest difference between John Fassel and another random young guy who has tons of interest in becoming a coach and doing the hard work of getting no credit for 14 hour days? If I spent no time with my family over my career and my kid wanted to do what I do, and he showed an aptitiude? Sure. If he can make his way later, without me, why not? The NFL weeds that stuff out quickly.

Same if it was a daughter. Yeah, you can coach. There's no doubt that Mike Brown runs the most nepotistic franchise out there - hell, he's following example of his father really. But that franchise could be the first to be led by a female executive, and it's both on its way and deserved. I think that's awesome.

I mean, it's not like Andy Reid's kids are employed as position coaches. You have to earn it.


It's gotten tougher with the assistant rules being what they are - allowing little freedom for movement anymore - to get guys that you really know, and trust. And the Rooney rule, when it's not being a laughingstock thanks to teams who don't care about it (and coaches like Ray Sherman that allow it), works - you're not hiring a coach because this guy knows that guy, you're doing so because you're required to do the research.

But it doesn't resolve the biggest issue - that coaches want coaches they know.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

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.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Armanti Edwards: Out Of Shape?

Looks like Duke Robinson wasn't the only young Panther to show up behind schedule in conditioning. The Charlotte Observer reports now, in February, that Edwards was out of shape in August.

Setting aside the idea that Edwards being out of shape never seemed to be breached when it was topical - and that staffers from the Observer routinely blamed John Fox for not putting Edwards on the field more - it's still interesting news. And it took a baiting question to Antwan Randle-El at the Super Bowl to bring local news about a local player, from the local team, to report it.

Of course, Edwards knows how he needs to train for next year, now. I'm a little surprised no one got with him on it at the time, and it's always amazing to hear about a player who goes through the combine process looking for a shot at stardom and riches, but isn't in peak physical condition. If Edwards expected to be a QB only, sure, his 40 time is less critical, but he'd still want to show as an exceptional specimen and prospect. I mean, at 5'11 and a lefty, he'd have to show something exceptional at something.

So I don't know if it's time to legitimately question Edwards' work ethic. He's going through a terribly rough transition, from 1-AA QB to NFL receiver and returner. He won't make the field if he can't play this year, which turns him from project to

But, when all is said and done, if this pick doesn't work out, there'll be worry whether Edwards did enough. With that said, I guess I can see why the Observer might hold back that info - keep it quiet, don't taint the young player. Maybe Edwards truly lucked out getting a draw from the home team. Other rumored teams - NE seems to come up often, even though we traded with them to get the pick for Edwards - have media that would've given him a much harder hill to climb to get over that stigma.

The truth is, he's behind the two other young receivers, and if the front office does what they needed to do last year (bring in a veteran), Edwards may be out in the cold. He's less imposing than the other two, has less experience at the pro and college level at WR, and now has to work twice as hard to make up time.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

McDermott: Fired, Recommended

It looks like the media process is much stronger in Philadelphia, where Ron Rivera is found giving quotes about other team's staff, and where our new DC Sean McDermott gives interviews better than we'd see here.

http://www.csnphilly.com/02/05/11/McDermott-speaks-about-his-ouster-from-E/landing_eagles.html?blockID=404840&feedID=704

McDermott, on staff throughout Andy Reid's tenure there,was apparently notified about his release quietly to save face. Then, Reid attempted to cover the firing, contacting Rivera to setup the possibility of a lateral move, a move Rivera welcomed. It would save face for McDermott, a move instead of a firing, until the news leaked.

article here: http://www.philly.com/philly/sports/eagles/115461824.html?cmpid=15585797#ixzz1DJs6IBVa

McDermott also interviewed with John Fox in Denver, but it's not known if that was prompted by Reid as well.


It suggests that while Reid himself may have not been happy with the defense, he may have been persuaded to make change he wouldn't have otherwise made. Reid had suggested only days before that McDermott would stay. Follow that with attempting to cover up the firing, and it certainly doesn't look like an angry scapegoating at the least, and certainly shows Reid's respect for the young coach.

It also seems that Reid either didn't have a plan for the new staff, or those plans fell through. Dick Jauron made sense as a successor, but may have opted out. Jim Mora, Jr didn't come aboard. After a long purge of staff, they ended up with their own OL coach, an unprecedented move (the quoted move of Ravens coach Mike Nolan from WR coach to DC was clearly a move to stash the respected coach to let Marvin Lewis leave, which they did without missing a beat). If Castillo had been the choice all along, why not just hire him later that week and hire assistants?



McDermott was validated a bit with the Packers' win this week: his Philly squad held Green Bay to its lowest yardage total of the postseason. The Packers went on to dominate post-season offensive totals but only put 309 yards on the Eagles.




Also, since he interviewed with the team (which looks like they're trying to increase visibility, that article is here:

http://www.panthers.com/media-vault/videos/Sean-McDermott-Interview/c39dd9ff-7927-4ee1-bc17-bd1e9a3a77e2

Saturday, February 5, 2011

RBs coach, LBs coach in

John Settle is the new RBs coach, and Warren Belin is the new LBs coach.

Quick synopsis:
both were college coaches, very good college players from NC raising and NC schools (despite that, they're considered smart coaches).

Belin:
Marshville, NC; Wake Forest LB 87-90, graduating cum laude from a very good school; he coached with stops at William & Mary, Cornell and East Tennessee State, before heading to SMU, a decade tenure at Vanderbilt (which included growing responsibility including special teams coordinator, then recruiting coordinator). He jumped to Georgia last year, then got our call this year.

He's tied to Sean McDermott, having coached at W&M in 1995-96 while McDermott was a player. Belin is the only coach on the defensive staff without pro coaching experience (actually, the only staffer without pro experience other than Proehl, who has no coaching experience at all, and Turner, with 5 years college experience), but has been coaching since 1991. Any pro experience will be caught up fast - consider Rivera (a 9 year pro LB, with 7 years experience coaching the position), McDermott (coached linebackers twice with the Eagles) as able tutors.


Settle:
Reidsville, NC native, Appalachian St. RB, undrafted. 1000 yard rusher and Pro Bowler for the Falcons in 1988, and won the Super Bowl with the Redskins (he didn't play that year). He was the first undrafted RB to rush for 1000 yards, a rare feat considering the draft went a lot farther than 7 rounds - over 330 players were drafted back then.

Coached with AppSt in 94 after ending his pro career, then spent 95-98 with the Browns/Ravens as a third tier assistant. He followed staffer Pat Hill, who'd become the head coach at Fresno State, and was there eight seasons, six of which included 1000 yard rushers.

At Wisconsin, coached under Paul Chryst. Had 1000 yard rushers each of his years there, and led the big 10 in rushing the last four. He was there five years as RBs coach before getting called back to the NFL with Carolina this week.


The team needs a strength and conditioning coach, and teams often hire assistants to that coach. Why that's a coaching, and not training, title I have no idea, but it is. They may, and probably should, hire a young assistant DBs coach and special teams assistant, but they have plenty of staff if not.




sorry, I've been on the road the last few days. A sick child, followed by a great concert by the lovely Jill Andrews, and all day today celebrating various birthdays. More to come later.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Ryan Kalil: Contract Status

I was looking up some other info and came across something I wanted to post re: Kalil's status. It looks like Kalil will return

Here are terms on the last few high-priced deals at center:

Jeff Faine, 2008: 6 years, $37.5 million, $15 million guaranteed

Jason Brown, 2009: 5 years, $37.5 million, $20 million guaranteed

Nick Mangold, 2010: 7 years, $55 million, $22 million guaranteed



It looks like there's been a new "highest paid center" each of the last three years. Will Kalil be it this year?


Kalil, along with Travelle Wharton, seem to make the most sense of what we have to fit into the zone blocking scheme that comes with our offense.

In a situation where Kalil returns, there's not a lot of room for line improvement. The unit struggled last year, partly because Jeff Otah missed the entire year with what had been expected to be minor surgery. The pair, with Wharton and Jordan Gross, would give only RG a spot to grow on the OL.

Beason's Extension, CBA, and Rookie Cap

Most of the initial talk in this blog started years ago worrying about getting Julius Peppers done. Three years later, he's no longer a Panther and a player from that first year is now ready for a deal of his own.

http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/rapid-reports/post/14640139

Nothing radically "new" here, but good to talk about something other than coaching. Beason's obviously someone they want done, and they want him in quickly at a new deal that suits the new CBA.

You could argue that others need to be done "sooner", but I do advocate deals a year before it's necessary. There's no doubt they intend to build a team with Jon Beason as its defensive leader.




I won't go too far with the CBA - they need to get it done, and balance it back toward the owners but fair for both - but the ideas of a rookie scale may screw the owners to a point. "Rookies haven't earned their deals" is the battle cry by most, and one thing vets likely agree on. But consider that money might flow faster for depth now, if a rookie scale gets done.

Outside the top 15, players are a steal if they work out. Consider Beason - at 5 years, $12 million - made less in his entire contract than Julius Peppers did in any year since 08. Beason's next deal will be huge compared to his rookie season, and not undeservedly.

Chris Gamble was another late first round dratee, signing a 5 year $9 million contract as a rookie. He played well, and started at corner for all but 8 of his first six years. He ended up with a deal that paid him as much per year as his entire first contract. As you go further down, a second rounder gets only signing bonuses greater than a 5th, 7th rounder.

Sounds good, right? Well, a rookie wage scale would inevitably flatten out the curve, IMO. It's not $50 mil for the top guy and nothing for the 100th guy, in my guess anyway. So will it be worth it for the top player to be worth $40 million, the 25th worth $20 million, and the 100th player $10 million?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Proehl Hired

Ricky Proehl was hired today, as an 'offensive consultant'.

It's great to have him on board, but I have no idea what that is. Everyone says that he'll work with WRs coach Fred Graves, which is logical, but without the word 'coach' in there, it lacks a lot of punch.

Will he primarily coach in minicamps and training camp? Will he not be full-time? It'd odd. Still, some Proehl is better than no Proehl, with his playing experience under the Coryell offense with Mike Martz.