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Friday, January 27, 2012

Coples, and DE

Carolina is staring down a look back at history in Quentin Coples - the athletic local pass rusher with all the tools who might or might not put it all together. If that doesn't remind you of Julius Peppers, you're not paying attention.

For what it's worth, before we get into the ends any further, I think there are major differences. Coples wasn't even the best edge rusher on his team - Paige-Moss was, and Peppers had elite level athletic ability where Coples is just above average (when he's turning it on, that is).



So let's talk about our ends. Charles Johnson earned his season salary through most of the season, a hefty pricetag that came along with a lot of plays made. He slowed past the halfway mark, and ended up hurt, but early on he was a legitimate sack a game DE who brought pressure and did everything right (excluding offsides penalties and penalties in general).

Greg Hardy, on the other hand, is on the field the same guy he is off - moody, and inconsistent. Hardy ended up with more pressures - 33 to 32, per profootballfocus.com - than Johnson, though he had more snaps to do it in and played healthy in the full season. He had 8 batted passes, to play out his own portion of the Julius Peppers analogy. He had more PFF "stops" - causing offensive failure - than Johnson. So we're set at end, right? Not in the least.

Charles Johnson didn't have the 90+ hurries from 2010, but the added attention he received in 2011 didn't stop him from excelling against the run. Johnson can clearly handle the attention, and the run. Hardy doesn't grade out well there, PFF listing him as their third highest graded player (Johnson first), but clearly struggling against the run (2nd worst, in their ratings system including backups). There was speculation that Hardy needed fewer snaps or a rotation system. There's no doubt he's talented, and has the bulk to play the run.

So, taking snaps off Hardy and Johnson? Undrafted Thomas Keiser and street FA pickup Antwan Applewhite. Really, not as bad as it seems, but if you had assigned their stats to Eric Norwood and Everette Brown, we're not talking about drafting an end. That duo, at one point penciled starters in preseason at different times, couldn't get out of their own way while Hardy was recovering from a motorcycle accident. Brown, obviously, is no longer with the team and Norwood somehow wasn't even exceptional at special teams.

So that left Keiser, who was on the practice squad at one point, who immediately lit it up in his first action with an open field tackle, and finished with four sacks; however the Stanford scrapper was deceiving, in that he only had 3 QB pressures with his four sacks and finished higher against the run. In reality, Keiser was a declared Junior without an offseason program, and should do well with professional training and a summer in the weight room, but he will have to re-earn his job.

Applewhite stepped in and filled the rush role off the street, and immediately became the other stand up rusher in the 3-4 sets. He was the only other guy with more than 10 pressures (14), and for someone who we picked up in week 5, played the 14th most snaps of defense. Not a bad bargain for the minimum. Now he's a free agent, but it's hard to say what happens or what the team plans to bring in.

So where does that leave us?

Nowhere on defense can we afford to not upgrade. The best man on defense we can get, anywhere, can be helpful. If you are convinced Coples is the next great right end in the NFL, you do take him. It moves Hardy more situational - he or Johnson, or really Coples, might end up rushing inside, giving you a pretty solid Giants-style DL (and don't forget, the pilot of that defense was Steve Spagnuolo, who runs the same Jim Johnson scheme). Coples would possibly be inside given that he's worked more at tackle than end in college lately, and is larger.

Same for South Carolina's Melvin Ingram, who's closer to Coples than many are willing to believe. The difference is, Ingram is squattier, and less athletic, but I don't see much difference on the field. I see a more compact guy for your same 270 lbs, with a better motor. Less upside? Maybe. But, you know you'll get all out effort, and that's big.

Either guy, in a 3-4 one-gap, could move to the 5-technique and rush (you saw a lot of it with JJ Watt if you watched the Texans in the playoffs). It's a nice luxury that you may also get later with Nebraska's Jared Crick, or further down with Trevor Guyton of Cal (who seems to be slipping).



But, if you look specifically at the need and what this team wants to do - does a team that suggests aggressiveness and zone blitzing require a blue chip end to go with its existing guy (and a second, Hardy, with blue chip pedigree)? Or is it better to go after the 280 lb guy who can rush, and drop him in at left end to drop Hardy's snaps per game from 56 to a more manageable 45? Guyton, as an example, could play more run snaps in the second quarter and on, play disciplined contain and set the edge, but stay in his space and react; then he could rush inside, allowing both Hardy and Johnson to stay at it.

All while the team can spend more on corner, DT, even LB if needed.

While I'm on that, if you're looking for a 2 for 1 deal on a football player up top, and the idea of Coples playing inside or outside is more interesting than actually drafting Coples, consider this:

Alabama.

I'm not much on Bowl season being the sum total of a fan's scouting, but anyone had to have sesn the display that Courtney Upshaw put on against LSU. Upshaw is a 6'3, 260 lb OLB who can rush like an end - hand work, knee bend, body lean, all of it. He can beat offensive tackles. And, he's an attacking downhill linebacker who sheds well.

So why not strongside? Carolina has James Anderson, who can move around; they have catastrophic injuries to overcome in Thomas Davis and Jon Beason. And they have no depth behind them (Dan Connor is UFA). Upshaw is a guy you can stand up for the 3-4, and not miss a beat; he's a guy you can stand up in the 4-3 and, if you must, drop back. He's a guy you can edge rush in nickel, and while he's not as sudden as Von Miller, that's a lot to ask of anyone.

If that high first round pick is rich for your tastes for a blitz guy, the 6'4 260 lb inside linebacker counterpart for Alabama seems more than able to do the same things in the second round (and also gives you that inside linebacker ability/mentality).

This last bit isn't about end, but if you can get by with a Guyton or a modest FA like Juqua Parker (who fits), why not? You stop the run, you add a rush body, and then you have the ability to play with your first rounder and possibly take the best impact for your buck in an Upshaw.

Just as an example. Or you can get nutty and draft Coples to play the three technique fulltime. Who knows.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Munnerlyn V/S All Takers?

Captain Munnerlyn pays attention to rumors and, possibly, message boards.

So, in a contract year, Munnerlyn says that the corner talk has to stop, while making a ballsy but not necessarily wise display around his new position coach.

Munnerlyn is a one year starter, and struggled in that year despite being pretty decent in starting time in 2010 for a game or two. He's a valuable commodity, but at his best he hasn't shown worth a big contract, and I doubt he'll get one elsewhere. So is he your starter?

He thinks so, but the struggles suggest otherwise. Is he a good nickel corner who fits this defense well for his physicality, scrappiness, and even ability to blitz? Yeah, those things in my opinion are true. And with new DBs coach Steve Wilks likely to help make more changes than old DBs coach/new Chargers DB coach Ron Meeks (which is weird, but good luck Ron), Captain should be ready for the fight he says he'll win.

The end result is, and it's been well documented here, the DBs weren't good. And while we might be stuck with the safeties to a point, we only have loyalty to the CB who earned it - Gamble. Otherwise, Munnerlyn can earn the start, he can play nickel and return punts, or he can be a 4th CB who runs punts down.

Options?

So now that Munnerlyn has guaranteed himself competition for his job, what will Carolina do?

It might be something grand. But it's hard to say.

A week ago, you could say that Morris Claiborne or Dre Kirkpatrick might be there at Carolina's pick, but with the weed bust for Kirkpatrick, he's fallen while Claiborne has risen. I'm still fine with the physical, and possibly more talented, Kirkpatrick. In the second round you can still be festive at corner, picking up a Jannoris Jenkins or Chase Minnifield (though Minnifield's support has been wavering lately). Draft value will change a lot over time but corners tend to hold value; all of the above represent an upgrade and fit more what the Panthers will do long term.

Each of them fit the man coverage, disguise cover 3/6, zone blitz concepts that Ron Rivera and Sean McDermott will put together (you'd guess - there was a lot more man this year than expected, and who knows how this defense will evolve for the long term considering the pass threats in the NFL). Munnerlyn is a cover 2 guy who has experience and can play the slot WR, but just doesn't represent what the team appears to want - in my opinion, a 6'+, 210 lb+, physical corner who can hold his own and make plays.

Captain is a local guy with a funny name, so he's endeared here. But the outburst, swagger and all, sounds more like worry than legitimate confidence. Let's hope that Munnerlyn doesn't pay attention to metrics websites, we need him to have more confidence than that.

Now - that said, that should be all for defensive backs for a bit. What started as analysis of the DBs turned into numerous posts in a row on them, but the defense will get full coverage soon enough.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Wrong About Newton

I was wrong about Cam Newton. I saw a team reaching for a quarterback that they felt they needed, instead of the best player, and in that, I was wrong.

It started with the disappointment of Andrew Luck staying in school, and even Luck at one point I felt was being pushed because of unhappiness about Jimmy Clausen. There was a time where I still felt like Clausen could be the guy enough to not want another high QB, but that time has passed.

I honestly wasn't even sure Cam Newton was worth a top pick - he wasn't ready, he was being hyped because of athleticism. I wanted a pocket QB. I've been burned by athletic, big armed QBs before, and those were often guys who didn't look like they wanted to run first. In the end, I had concerns about readiness and had him around 15th, which I don't regret (I tried to like Blaine Gabbert, but what an awful QB). He's proven me wrong, but I don't feel bad about the criticism, which was mostly on-field.

That's one thing that definitely distracted from his game - the shell game of his character issues. A lot of the pre-draft discussion was on that, not on more important things like accuracy. It wasn't whether he was a good QB, it was whether his past performance indicated whether he was going to be a good citizen. I remained concerned about accuracy, and readiness. I never would've assumed he could start from day one, and going into week 1 I'd still not seen anything that suggested he should. By the end of that week, all doubt was gone.
He has had some blips - but minor ones - that include the moodiness on failure and the occasional slip of the tongue that says the wrong thing. That part, that has to improve. But the concerns of being a negative, a distraction, right now are gone. From here on, hopefully, it's just a matter of protecting him better and getting him to limit the turnovers.

To this day, it seems that Newton isn't always completely ready - he's talked occasionally about getting the playcall wrong and being corrected in-huddle, and early in the season there was motion on the field that seemed to happen without Newton's signal, and even occasionally surprised him. But it worked, and it still does. Inevitably, he's going to have to get around more of the offense, including making the calls and signaling the shifts, even audibles hopefully.

But, for right now, what they're doing is working. And I'm continuing to be happily wrong. Even if he never returns to his 400 yards a game starting glory, if he can make his throws and pickup third downs as he's done, I'm OK with that.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Hired - Steve Wilks, DBs coach

Steven Wilks comes to Carolina as defensive backs coach, replacing the recently fired Ron Meeks. Wilks was the DBs coach under Ron Rivera with the Chargers, and stayed for an additional year. Wilks was not fired, but his contract was up, allowing him to leave.

Wilks was Norv Turner's assistant head coach last year, promoted after Rob Chudzinski left last year (in a similar situation - his contract simply expired and he left). Wilks, therefore, as assistant head coach, was considered Turner's right hand man, and that's never a terrible deal.

There might be an alternate theory - that Wilks was promoted because he wasn't allowed to leave - and therefore got the additional title and money, to not leave. But then he would've likely been given an additional contract length, and that didn't happen. The Chargers were searching for a replacement because they apparently knew Wilks was leaving. Turner, who probably should've just promoted John Pagano when Rivera left, did so after firing Greg Manusky this year. That wasn't an incorrect move but may have allowed Wilks to walk.

If Wilks was in our plans after one year, where did that leave Ron Meeks? A further conspiracy might suggest that Meeks wasn't kept for any other reason than to place-hold for Wilks, who would've been Rivera's first choice; it wasn't to fulfill a contract obligation, as Meeks wasn't signed for longer than John Fox and his contract would've expired in 2010 as well. Either way, as hopeful as the Meeks hiring looked, it was a merit firing - Carolina needed change and Meeks' Cover 2 teaching didn't fit in our man, zone blitz, and disguise coverage looks.


Wilks was a collegiate player at Appalachian State, and returned to his hometown of Charlotte to play for the Arena franchise, the Rage. After numerous stops at Division II teams as a coordinator, he coached DBs for Notre Dame and Washington, then was hired onto the Lovie Smith/Ron Rivera Bears in 2006; he reunited with Rivera in 09-10 as his DBs coach again.


I personally hope that, even if no other moves are made (still hoping for that ST coach change to Taub), that the team hires an assistant DBs coach, a young guy that can help out (this is always where I felt like Mike Minter could've helped us).

Meeks as DBs coach, in the singular, was the first coach in many years that didn't have help. Alvin Reynolds was the assistant DBs coach here in 2002, and he became a Jaguars assistant under Jack Del Rio (third tier assistants can easily leave, if they're offered position coach work), Ken Flajole was the assistant the year after (he ended up taking over for Sam Mills, and then left for the Rams job he just lost), and Mike Gilhamer was the safeties coach after that.

Any DBs coach can use a hand (given that up to 9 may dress, and camp may have up to 25), so I'd be in favor of giving him just that; as well, DC Sean McDermott and the position coaches have always been on the field. No one of real authority on defense is in the coach's booth. Assistant DBs coach Cris Dishman, a former All-Pro, was Wilks's counterpart in San Diego, and is also free of a contract, so hopefully they pull off something like that.


Wilks has his work cut out for him - Chris Gamble was well above average, but the rest of the secondary is, at best, in transition or underperforming.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Ron Meeks: Fired

DBs coach Ron Meeks was fired today, per the Charlotte Observer.

Meeks, formerly the DC in Carolina in 2009-2010, and in Indianapolis 2002-2008, was retained as DBs coach last year by Ron Rivera, in what was considered a savvy move.

However, defensive back struggles as I documented here, and exascerbated by the final Saints game, apparently made changes necessary. Meeks' unit, the one least changed by offseason moves, or injury - or really, even coaching since they retained him - was at times as bad as any part of the defense.

It's uncertain if any other moves are coming - while I'm not a fan of letting coaches go in year one, I wouldn't be totally against ST coach Brian Murphy going if it meant Dave Toub coming on - or if Sean McDermott is safe himself.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Mularkey to JAX

Mike Mularkey is supposed to be named the next head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, presumably erasing the largest threat to the Panthers losing OC Rob Chudzinski. To this point, Chud has only interviewed with the Jags, and Carolina hasn't been asked permission to allow him to talk to others.

As of now, that's the first new hire of the 2012 season (Romeo Crennel is also staying). The Rams and Dolphins both have auxiliary candidates but may be sent scrambling, based on Jeff Fisher; Tampa Bay appears to be looking at veteran coaches (Mike Sherman, Marty Schottenheimer).

The remaining bad news? Oakland and Indy are still in the process as well, the Oakland job opening just today. The Indy job will be open, soon.

The upside is that Hue Jackson being released in Oakland would make for a fantastic replacement OC, if we required one. Like Chudzinski, Jackson is a Coryell guy, and he's had success everywhere he's been - and didn't deserve to be let go in the power struggle in Oakland.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Cornerbacks/Safeties?

I'm still scattered as I attempt to get back into the swing of posting regularly. My hope is to go into a little detail on what we have, and what we need, so that what we should do will become more clear as all of the information is out there.



Anyone who hasn't successfully blocked the last Saints game from their mind remembers how much we need defensive backs. The problems with the DBs were maddening - that unit was the only one without a lapse in continuity in coaching or injury, where other units had both. Ron Meeks made an able secondary as coordinator in 09-10, but as DBs coach it didn't work out.

Chris Gamble was, by far, the star of this group. Rated 18th by ProFootballFocus, his QB rating was in the 40s until the Saints game, and finished at 54.8 (6th overall). He barely got targeted, didn't give up a lot of completions when doing so, but his base numbers don't look as great with 3 INT/7 defended passes. Gamble can excel doing anything - he was drafted for the deep cover 3 of John Fox, was excellent last year in the cover 2 despite his benching for off the field concerns, and now is doing well in the various man and zone fronts of this scheme. Gamble's crutch was missed tackles, where his 13 were 4th worst for the team.

Captain Munnerlyn had a good 2010 - showed to play the ball more, had a low completion percentage - but failed at coverage this year (126 QB rating, 4th worst, and allows completions at a 73% rate). He's a football player moreso than starting corner, not because of his height specifically, but just that he's a 7th rounder who's playing up to a 5th round level. Munnerlyn's a free agent after 2012, and hasn't earned more than to be a nickel at this point.

Brandon Hogan was the lone injury exception, but having drafted him with an ACL injury, Carolina had to know that Hogan wasn't going to be ready. So, he wasn't, and Carolina didn't get a good look at him outside of a handful of plays.

Darius Butler was an OK outside cover guy at times, but gives up a lot - there was a reason he was available - and at a 117 QB rating, he isn't that great. RJ Stanford is notable for coming into a few games and being prepared, but that's about all.

So - in retrospect, at one point Richard Marshall was available cheaply (though he probably never looked back, ignoring that no one else would pay him bigtime and just focusing on that we wouldn't), and he had a good year. The coked-up version of the same hindsight says Carlos Rogers had one of the better corner years, and he wasn't expensive either (he is now, however).



At safety, Carolina had three young safeties, Charles Godfrey going into year 4, Sherrod Martin into his second full starting year, and Jordan Pugh was very good in relief. Both had OK moments, but neither put together good seasons. Martin was our third worst run defender, and the pair of starters combined to make up 1/3 of our missed tackles. The unit is not physical, and it's not a big enough playmaking unit to

Godfrey's QB rating was a mediocre 92, Martin's an OK 82. Pugh struggled, topping 110.

The problem with Godfrey being the bigger problem in coverage is this - he's signed for five more years, and due an option bonus that won't make it any easier to get rid of him. He's here to stay for the long term.


So, now what?

On paper, cornerback seems as likely a place to go with the 1st round pick as any. There are up to two guys there that could help (Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick, LSU's Morris Claiborne), both cover guys who have the physical size and athleticism you expect, to go along with what seems to be a lack of mistakes and good playmaking ability. Either, to go with Gamble, could create a lot better defensive matchup versus big, physical attacks like New Orleans, Atlanta that they face twice a year. That would leave Munnerlyn at nickel, and Hogan has a year to play special teams to help out.

But that leaves a lot less room at safety, where there needs to be a push to get better. With the above plan, the best you can hope for is landing a SS like Sean Richardson at the top of 4, having him play special teams for a year, and hoping that the team sees enough out of him to improve on what's there (Richardson, a 6'2, 220 lb prospect, will have to show he can be athletic enough to be out there, but will be a killer special teamer).

The somewhat cerebral Pugh, or the athletic Martin, or both, need to find their way down to corner if legitimate upgrading is to be done at S. That would leave legitimate room for
But, would Martin and Hogan be enough to turn 2012 into a positive coverage year? If not, is it worth it to still have to put a higher pick into cornerback?

There's always the wildcard idea - Carolina goes and gets a CB in FA, for instance. Asante Samuel is a good fit (though Samuel had a great year in coverage, similar to Gamble in QBRating, completion percentage, and so on, he was a minor run liability, and Carolina has enough of those), if he'll play for a year on a decent contract to earn more. That would allow Carolina to look at safety in the second, for instance, and pull a guy who can contribute.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Signs Are Pointing Toward Continuity

Most teams don't have to worry about continuity at the end of year one, but this is the Carolina Panthers. The George Seifert regime had a coordinator depart after year one, and then a second after four more games. John Fox lost Jack Del Rio after a year.

So, now a year into Ron Rivera's tenure, the concern was losing either or both stellar young offensive coaches: OC Rob Chudzinski interviewed with the Jaguars this week, and QBs coach Mike Shula had been rumored to go to the University of Florida as OC.

For now, it looks like there will be no change.

Jay Gruden is the assumed front runner for the Jags job, and the Bengals just lost in the first round of the playoffs. Florida is likely to pickup Boise State's Brent Pease as OC. No other teams are looking for head coaches in Chud's direction right now, so it looks like the offensive staff will get another year before being picked apart.

There's a far less likely, but still possible, way for Carolina to change things up. With former Rivera associate and friend Dave Toub on the market (talking to Miami about a head coaching job, but not looking all that likely depending on Jeff Fisher), I'd like to see that as an upgrade over current ST coach Brian Murphy.

You don't fire a guy without a good reason, and Murphy's special teams were the worst part of the Panthers in 2011. The team lost numerous games that included a special teams touchdown, Olindo Mare lost two more with missed FGs, and little production showed up in return teams.

Toub, who worked with Rivera for three years in Philadelphia, and the pair moved to Chicago together in 2004, working together for three more years. He was special teams coach of the year in 2007.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Cap Hits?

Carolina has $124 million in contracts and bonuses that will count against the salary cap, currently in the top 5 of contracts signed.

Upside? Carolina has most of the guys they want signed, signed. Downside? They have major issues if they want to make many moves.

So who goes?

First, consider the cap still works as it did prior to the new CBA. 2012 signing bonuses, as of now, have already counted. They aren't changeable. 2013 and further bonuses, if that contract is severed, will escalate.

Example - random backup WR for the Panthers signed a 5 year $10 million deal, two years ago (so three remaining). The signing bonus was $5 million, and each year's salary is $1 million. To cut that player this year, the $1 million in current salary is saved (and future salary ceases to exist), and the future years' worth of bonus proration ($5 million total leaves $1 million per year) counts against the cap instead (2 remaining years, since 2012 has counted, means $2 million, minus the $1 million of saved salary means it still costs you $1 million to cut this player).


Second, let's look at special teams.

Punter Jason Baker is due $1.5 million in salary, and it's his final contract year in 2012 so his bonus amount ($337,000) is irrelevant - it counts no matter what. So, cutting Baker saves you $1.5 million. Baker was an erratic punter, whose lack of control helped cause numerous special teams issues, so it's safe to see that Baker should be worried.

Kicker Olindo Mare just signed his deal last year, signing for $4 million. 2011 is passed, and 2012 has counted, so $2 million of that still counts if cut, versus a $2.1 million salary and $100k workout bonus. So, Mare saves you $200,000 to cut, not as much as you might hope. But, it's still better than costing you cap space to cut him and sign another kicker as well.

Offense

Steve Smith enters 2012 in prime position - he's minded his manners for a few years, even gritting his teeth through 2010 somewhat well. He's had a Pro Bowl year, and comes into his final season with a $7.75 million salary. Bonus is irrelevant, as it's already counted. So, Carolina will inevitably come to Smith looking for an extension, even at his age (32), to extend him for guaranteed money and future years in exchange for a lowered 2012 cap hit. There's room to save around $5 million, depending on the length of the deal, but if Carolina and Smith are smart, they won't build in too many bonuses and work on salary. The future cap rules seem to favor players without past earnings counting against the cap.

Travelle Wharton had an up and down year at guard, but was a solid relief tackle. Wharton is two years out of finishing his contract, costing $7.7 and $7.9 million this year and next. That's a lot for a guard who just hit 30, and had a lot of struggles early in this season (he finished well, and is still a mobile player, as evidenced by his solid play at LT against Atlanta and good work as a lead blocker and in the screen game). So will his contract be his undoing?

Wharton's due a $5.7 million salary, against the 2013 portion of his signing bonus ($2 mil), for a $3.7 million savings.

Jordan Gross is almost entirely salary - he makes $8.5 million next year, versus a salary cap proration of $1.6 million. If Gross ever falls off on his play, it'll be easy to cut him - conversely, he could very easily guarantee most of that $8.5 million, which makes it a bonus - 1/3 would count this year, of course, and count $2.66 million, the rest of which would prorate to next year and leave a $5.33 million savings.

Currently, cutting or renegotiating Gross stands as the cleanest way to save money, but he won't be let go and he probably won't renegotiate. His low, $5 million bonus when signing creates a greater longevity for Gross compared to others on this list, and his play can be occasionally be maddening (facing Jared Allen, for instance), but he grades out as Carolina's best OL this year (and fourth best rated player overall) by profootballfocus.com.

Jeff Otah is in the final year of his deal, a rookie deal that even for a mid first rounder is a bargain compared to Wharton's $35 million or Jordan Gross' $60 million - if only he could stay healthy. He likely doesn't go anywhere, but since he's in the final year, the whole 2012 savings would be his salary ($1,067,250).

Jimmy Clausen, who Carolina would privately like to recoup value on, might or might not have trade value this year, but comes with a $1.25 million signing bonus escalation if traded (versus a $490,000 salary savings). So, value at a cost - whereas a trade after 2012 would have the team break even, roughly.

Defense

Thomas Davis, based on what Ron Rivera and Jerry Richardson have both said, seems to be a guy the team wants to have return. But it gets tricky, and probably goes outside of the scope of the restructure or release type cap situation we've discussed.

Davis has a $7 million bonus (1.4 mil per year, and two years have counted, leaving
$4.2 million to account for), versus a $2.2 million salary. Already in the hole, the option bonus due Davis would be another $8.25 million to keep (2.05 million more against the cap). Carolina could choose not to pay the bonus, but that would eliminate Davis' contract, save the salary, and cost the bonus - $2 million debt against the cap compared to where you are right now, for a player you no longer have. The only way to ensure both sides come out fair, is to guarantee most of the salary ($1.5 million of it), erase all or at least most of the option bonus, and reset so that it helps both sides. It'll take a complete renegotiation of the existing contract, not just moving money around.

Jon Beason doesn't have that issue, having gotten all of his money up front. $3.33 million counts every year against the cap for his $20 million bonus, but his 2012 salary is $1.25 million (so there's no room to work).

Ron Edwards never made the field, but brought home $4 million. Of that, $2.5 million was bonus, over three years (two years have counted, so 1/3, $833,333, hasn't). So Edwards' $1.5 mil salary minus bonus proration is $666,666. At that value, it's somewhat worth seeing if he can return to his positive form as a roleplayer at DT.

Charles Godfrey is due a $5 million option bonus, which versus the remaining proration ($3.3 million) and $700k salary savings, guarantees Godfrey will be back and the option bonus will be added on as a signing bonus. It's amazing that Godfrey will have pocketed $10 million in guarantees, for a very average player.

Senior Bowl - Missed Opportunity

Carolina wasn't selected to coach at the Senior Bowl, an opportunity that Ron Rivera laments.

"If they'd given us the opportunity to do it, we would have done it," Rivera said. "Any time you can go and coach it, it gives you the opportunity to get in front of the guys."

The Senior Bowl is about as close as NFL teams get to working out prospects live, and it's an event that's attended by more NFL employees and hopefuls than anywhere else, excluding the much larger NFL combine. In the combine, you get a handful of workouts, and it's where most teams do the bulk of interviewing and testing.

The Senior Bowl is a game, run by two NFL teams - a big advantage. They get their hands on players for days in a row. They get to put them through live contact against other guys, and actively coach them into what will fit the team's needs.

As well, it's become a major networking event in the league, where coaches go to look to fill out staffs and unemployed coaches and scouts try to get in front of an NFL difference maker.

Carolina coached the Senior Bowl once, in 2000.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Don't Forget Shula

Panthers OC Rob Chudzinski is undoubtedly one of the promising young coaches of the year, after taking the bottom-feeding 2010 offense into the upper echelon of the NFL in 2011. While Carolina finished 7th*, its lowest ranking of the year, it was still a masterful performance that also saw the rushing attack finish 3rd, and 1st in yards per attempt.

Chudzinski showed a mastery of running the offense, and tailored the Coryell attack to Cam Newton's strengths. He integrated the option attack into a pro offense and made it legitimately work. He took a young QB who had no business getting 400 yards per game in his first two weeks, and put him in as the centerpiece of a resurgent attack.

But that's where he needs to start sharing the credit. Chudzinski, a guy with plenty of experience as a TEs coach and offensive coordinator, has never coached quarterbacks. Mike Shula, of course, has. Shula was the one spending time with mostly Newton, while Chudzinski put the offense together. Shula, undoubtedly, gave input on what Cam can and can't do.

And, as a guy who attempted, and almost succeeded, in getting Tim Tebow to Alabama, he likely had as much say in the option packages as anything. Chudzinski, of course, ran a sophisticated pro style attack with the University of Miami, not unlike what we've seen here excluding the option runs.

Certainly, Shula isn't Chudzinski, but he deserves his part of the coaching credit. When Jerry Richardson and Marty Hurney mentioned offensive coaches (to go with their intended defensive hire), they did mention QBs coach. There's no doubt they spent to get Shula, and they knew he was going to be a big part of it all. We don't get this far without him, as well.


*a few things worked against Carolina at the end - taking the throttle off the Bucs, and folding completely against New Orleans. 11 yards per game separated Carolina and third place Green Bay.