Things are good in Carolina right now.
Don't look now, but Cam Newton and Ron Rivera are slowly nearing .500
for their career. If stats are for losers (only the worst single phrase
in sports, honestly), that one's still relevant. Winning is good.
And it's been a while. Carolina hasn't had six wins in early November
since 2008. At the time, that felt like the start of something big, not
the end. That felt like something to build on - a team full of youth
with the right amount of stars. It was time to stop the cycle of
occasional relevance. Everyone was worried about the lack of back to
back winning seasons, and the underlying issue of whether John Fox could
produce them, along with the looming CBA, kept Carolina from worrying
about that back-to-back. They're still recovering.
Now, Carolina has a shot at returning the culture to a winning team.
When you're not used to winning, it's difficult to be nationally
recognized - if you're not the Pats, you may as well be the Jaguars.
The team has a shot at righting that, no matter what happens.
So let's take a look at '14, which is much more fun with
*If they can keep Cam Newton, and keep him playing at least at this
level, they have a shot. That 2003 team had longevity and a good QB.
That 2008 team, aside from the Fox politics and the CBA, also had a
completely different QB, a guy with a bum arm. It's always hilarious to
see people point at 2008 Jake Delhomme as some level of "proof" about
2003-2005 Jake Delhomme. Two different guys. At any rate, Newton's a
good QB, and good QBs trend you toward success in most cases. It's
teams that turn over QBs that struggle.
*They have some cap issues for '14, some of which have been dealt with,
but some that will require creativity. Jon Beason was dealt with, and
they get a boost from his being gone - per-game roster bonuses don't
count if you're not there obviously - and they've dealt with Deangelo
Williams' deal. But they'll likely be looking at extensions for the
2011 deals of Ryan Kalil and Greg Olsen, to spread those contracts out,
and they'll have some hard decisions on some other vets.
*and then they have to deal with the UFA class of Greg Hardy, Brandon
LaFell/Ted Ginn, and figure out what to do with the secondary, which has
a cuttable Charles Godfrey and every other guy with more than 3 years
experience is a free agent (you have to keep Captain Munnerlyn, for
instance, and have to pray a Mike Mitchell has realistic expectations).
*They're obviously better on the line with Jordan Gross and Travelle
Wharton than without, but Gross' deal voids and Wharton is a free agent.
I don't think they can afford to completely start over there. If Amini
Silatolu can slide to the right, great, they need him. Then you add a
young guy who can take over at LT, because that clock is ticking on
Gross even if he's here.
*You have a pretty good draft coming up, and while tons of things have
to happen for that to take place, you should be able to get a solid OL
or, historically, if you wanted, a good CB or WR would still be there.
I still don't love young WR, but seeing Ricky Proehl with some of these
young guys, notably seeing Keenan Allen take off in SD, makes you think
we could get it right if we needed.
*Luckily Carolina has its full complement of early picks for the first
time in years. Remember back when Hurney could wheel and deal down in
the draft to pick up Jon Beason and Ryan Kalil, then stash Charles
Johnson in behind Julius Peppers? Just think about how fantastic it
would've been if Dwayne Jarrett hadn't been complete trash.
So you have a good team, about a quarter of which is a free agent. The
upside is that, without a lot of context, overthecap.com has Carolina in
an average position for next year. They don't have a lot of contracts
they can reword, and if you re-up Newton and either LaFell or Hardy for
a lot, you're wiping out most of your reserves. Dave Gettleman has his
work cut out for him.
But, things are trending up. It must continue.
A few weird stats to throw in:
It depends on what stat you cherry pick, honestly. If you count it
from when Marty Hurney was fired, the team's been pretty good since.
Was that a catalyst? Maybe - you ask most vet players, they had a
fondness for Marty. Most of this team is still his architecture, for
better or worse. They brought on a similar, if not more conservative,
version in Dave Gettleman. But, they're 11-5 in the last 16. They had
not achieved on that level in years. Is there something to that?
You can also point at Armanti Edwards. The team idled at around 7-9,
with the occasional playoff run, before Edwards was drafted; they were
abysmal while he's on the roster. After he was cut this year,
Carolina's ripped off five straight. 16-36 while he was here, I believe.
Football doesn't work that way. There's no more an Armanti Edwards
curse than a black cat curse. Carolina's a middling team in a small but