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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Smitty Speaks On Youth

Steve Smith has always had opinions, and on WFNZ this week, he didn't
hold back much about this team's structure.

Smith noted that recently the team has relied too heavily on rookies at
times, and mentioned rookie LG Amini Silatolu as a guy who had some
struggles. He also noted that Silatolu can become dominant, so he's not
questioning his talent; just whether or not he was put in too early.

He also mentioned that he preferred help at DT, and mentioned Sheldon
Richardson. The Missouri prospect is a long armed, long legged,
athletic tackle who plays the run very well, but despite his athletic
ability, hasn't closed the deal at the quarterback so far, but looks
like he can get pressure when he gets leverage after a very quick first
step.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Vet Wide Receiver

While fans drool over the potential of a Cordarelle Patterson, or any
number of other guys who just ran a fast 40, looks like Ron Rivera's
more on the line of thought I provided earlier this month.

Rivera, speaking at the combine to the NFL Network, suggested a veteran
would come aboard at WR.

The team has numerous young WR prospects already, though many of them
are later-round draft picks who don't have much playing time. What they
lack is another experienced option, and have whiffed at various guys
over the last two years, from Malcolm Floyd to Santana Moss to Jacoby
Jones. What they've been able to land, Legedu Naanee and Louis Murphy,
isn't enough.

People get enamored over guys who show incredible measurables, and
excelled in college, but young WR are generally just not quick
producers. Does it, in theory, sound like a great idea to add a guy who
will be around for years, as a target for Cam Newton? Of course.

But Newton requires someone who, like Steve Smith, has experience, and
reliability while we're at it. That's not a knock on Brandon LaFell -
it's a need for at least that much experience, if not more. LaFell has
seen as many snaps in the slot as outside, so another experienced player
with some ability gives them room to work the outside more effectively.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Cullen Jenkins Cut

DT Cullen Jenkins has been cut by the Eagles.

This is interesting information for various reasons - he fits our
defense; he's the brother of Kris Jenkins; and, he was a part of a
massive signing class by the Eagles in 2011.

The Eagles were, at the time, considered by some fans to be much
smarter, having signed a ton of big names from outside the team (most of
which are now gone. Carolina spent most of its money on re-signing its
own, with mixed results, though most of them are continuing with the
team as of now.

Jenkins becomes the latest in early-30s experienced pass rushers to be
available. Carolina has reached out to incumbent DT Dwan Edwards to
consider re-signing, and there's been interest from Chris Canty (if not
interest from the team, yet). I imagine Jenkins could draw interest.
Either way, the market for over-30 DTs figures not to be as expensive
now that there's a few of them together, and if nothing else, it will
help show that Edwards isn't really a long term solution.

As for Jenkins as a viable member of this team? There's nothing from
his brother that suggests he would dissuade him from coming to Carolina;
with 9.5 sacks in the last two years (16.5 including 2010), he's been
decent at pushing the pocket and appears a more complete player than the
run-deficient Edwards. Cost would be an issue to a point. And, Jenkins
leaves the need for a NT open, of course; it would merely be as a reason
to not require reaching for a DT if none are available in the first
round or two. But, with limited resources, Carolina might have to
simply choose between Jenkins, Canty, and Edwards under who'll accept
the low bid.

There's been suggestion of him going back to Green Bay, but that's hard
to say. Jenkins feels like a better one gap DT at this point, and Green
Bay remains a two gap 3-4. That would also keep him a less likely
choice for the Saints and Browns, currently retooling toward a two-gap.

A Few Words On Cordarrelle Patterson and Keenan Allen

Cordarrelle Patterson has gained a lot of attention lately - the Rock
Hill native is blazing in workouts, and he's recently stated himself to
have grown up a Panthers fan. So, naturally, there's a lot of fan buzz
on him. And, in theory, what's not to love? He's a 6'3, 205 lb
receiver, who wants to be here.

But, a first rounder into Patterson works on some levels - the deep
ball, maybe the return game, and the WR screens - but it has its
challenges. Patterson's routes are problematic, as are his breaks in
general. He's not precise. And, he only played 12 games at Tennessee,
having come out of community college prior. It worked with Cam Newton,
but it generally causes more projects than breakout stars.


On the other hand, Greensboro native Keenan Allen is seemingly falling.
The Cal star is coming off knee surgery, and won't work out at combine.
In an interesting twist, Panthers WR coach Ricky Proehl appears to be
coaxing Allen to workout at Proehlific Park, Proehl's own training
facility in Greensboro (making it a Pro Day that I would try to attend).
The 6'3, 210 lb Allen is being seen by Dr. James Andrews, who was also
the ace in the hole that helped with Jonathan Stewart.

With his size, and more physical play, some suggest he's a similar
player to Anquan Boldin. Others, seeing his school and overall skills,
see him as being able to do what Desean Jackson does in a larger
package. He runs precise routes, has the experience (3 years at Cal,
205 receptions and 18 TDs) and shows short and long speed on tape.
But, the knee injury will cause him to fall on most boards, even though
it should be temporary.

So, I'd exercise caution. For one, his team has a ton of young WR.
None like these two, but certainly, young guys. In my opinion, while
the team could use another dynamic playmaker, and they have to deal with
the pending free agency of Brandon LaFell in a year, I don't know if I'd
really worry about these two that hard. Allen makes a lot more sense of
the two tall WR, and has more experience. But the PCL strain/tear makes
it tougher to know where he is physically.

And, honestly, it feels like a lower need, despite the team only having
LaFell one more year. WRs have a short payoff window, and Carolina
needs contribution now.

DT Lotuleilei - Heart Condition

Top DT Star Lotuleilei had already been in a bit of a fall, if you
asked the internet; oddly enough, after no games had been played in the
last few months he'd started to be overtaken by Florida DT Sharrif Floyd
in some rankings. Now, I imagine the whole top of the draft to be in
flux, with Lotuleilei having been diagnosed with a heart condition.

It's hard to say what will happen. Having just been diagnosed, it's
difficult to know what his situation is, much less how NFL teams will
react. Panthers fans, I'm seeing, are quick to bring up Frank
Alexander, once considered a top DE that went in the 4th round.
Alexander missed the combine drills because of a potential heart
condition, and in March, it was determined there wasn't an issue. It
still pushed Alexander to fall, and I'm sure plenty of people are hoping
for Star to fall, too.

I'm not sure how to think about that, either. If everything checks out
OK, I'd be great with that. But I'm no cardiologist. I don't know if a
44% efficiency in one valve is that much different than a "normal" of
55-70%.

And after a massive streak of good #1s (when they're not trading them
away), it would be tough to gamble too hard on a medical issue. You
can't coach medical. And I'm reminded of two former Raiders - Chester
McGlockton (a Chief, Raider, 4 time Pro Bowler) died of an enlarged
heart at 42; and Leon Bender, a 2nd rounder in 1998 (a replacement for
McGlockton, as he went to the Chiefs that year), who died of a seizure
based on what I believe was an undiagnosed condition before he played a
single game.

So, it's wait and see, but it'll probably move some other DTs (and
hopefully DEs) ahead of our pick. Floyd, for what it's worth, ran a
4.87 40, and has impressive tape. My worry with Floyd, who on tape
reminds me a lot of Sheldon Richardson of Missouri, is that he doesn't
hold up as much at the point of attack as the larger guys. He's a gap
shooter, which is fine in this defense, and he could play the 5
technique well. But he's not a double team guy. And, unlike Richardson
and his long arms/long frame, Floyd's short 31" arms are a detriment to
a point; they make leverage more difficult, and if he rushes outside at
the 5 or 7, he's going to lose something to a massive right tackle.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

40 times/workouts: Combine OL

It's another installment of the "40 times only somewhat matter" series (more rickety names were not available at press time).  Let's just jump in:

http://www.bloggingtheboys.com/2013/2/24/4022350/2013-combine-tale-of-the-tape-for-o-line-making-sense-of-the-numbers

The most interesting bit is about Chance Warmack.  Observer reporter Joseph Person* recently suggested that UNC OL Jonathan Cooper gained a lot of ground on Warmack; Cooper ran a 5.07, Warmack ran 5.49.  That's a terrible attitude - and the pair had a very similar 10-yard.  So the pair both get off the ball well for their size.  I don't think Warmack lost anything.  Whether Cooper gained?  Maybe.  His high bench press was useful as well.   In a way I can see it on Warmack, because as an elite prospect he shouldn't have flaws like that.  But, I see him as a top 15 guy, not a top 5.

Furthermore, I'm sure some guys made their way up the pole by having run well at one drill (i.e., they trained hard for the 40 despite it being marginally useful for a lineman).  Six players ran a sub 5.0 40 as linemen, and two broke 4.8 - which no one had done previously as a lineman.

Only two guys weighed in under 300 - hard to believe - and no one over 340.  Largest OT DJ Fluker was respectably athletic, too - though 21 reps on the bench could be better.

I like the concept pushed - that lower ranked guys can still meet a number of these physical criteria, as opposed to starting to rank a guy higher because he excelled at one.  That puts David Quesenberry, Reid Fragel, and the ridiculously fast Terran Armstead as guys who might actually deserve to rise.

Hopefully something like that will come out for DL soon as well.

*not unlike most local reporters, you get too much opinion with Person, and not enough substance.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Nakamura, Williams Staying?

So far, Dave Gettleman has tried to keep the band together.

They've more or less ensured that Haruki Nakamura will stay, though as a backup.  His 2nd year value was higher, assuming he'd possibly start; he's taken a pay cut to stay (thanks to fellow blogger Ted for the tip). He'll save $500k and have a chance at free agency a year early and incentives, instead of being cut.

That lines him up to be able depth, a top special teams player (at one point, Nakamura had logged as many snaps as any player on the roster, with over 90% of D and ST snaps, but finished at around 60% due to injury), and it means that dead cap space goes toward a player who'll help out, not one that'll be playing for someone else.

As well, Joseph Person of the Observer states that Deangelo Williams is staying.
Williams' $8.2 million cap number is cumbersome, but would cost to cut him.  Next year, not unlike most 2011 contracts, Williams becomes cuttable.    So, it may just be a matter of practicality - don't eat cap space in '14 for a player who won't be there in '13.

I imagine that the Saints game couldn't have hurt Williams' case.  But, that was against a historically bad defense.  Williams underperformed all year, otherwise - he did also have 93 yards against San Diego - but part of that is also a lack of run dedication and a push to run a lot from shotgun and/or the zone read, veer option type plays.   Jonathan Stewart can take those a bit better, but both player requires a lot more downhill running - not first down shotgun draws, not delay handoff options.

However, I'd also caution one thing - Williams may still be trade bait.

Walsh On Personnel

http://www.sportsxchange.com/DS97/walsh/WALSH2.HTM

Here's the late Bill Walsh on personnel.  It's a bit outdated in a place or two, but it's fantastic stuff.  There's no denying Walsh's legacy.

It being on sportsxchange.com reminds me back in 96, 97, 98 when there was just the most basic of information out there about the draft.  I'd pour over the same info over and over (I believe I created a fake franchise for expansion one of those years), trying to learn. The internet's come a long way in 15 years - you can now watch tape from players on youtube, you can watch interviews at workouts.  You can watch the workouts.  It's crazy how much more information is available.

I started really loving football when Carolina came to town.  Watching them build from the ground up was fascinating. This reminds me of that distant time.  Hope everyone finds it a good read.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Talking with Dwan Edwards

Carolina has reached out to future free agent DT Dwan Edwards, a camp
pickup who posted 6 sacks in 2012.

With a fair bit of cap still in need of being cut, and not much
progress made, it's hard to say what that's about. Edwards is an asset,
but not a long term one - at 32 when the season starts, it's hard to
sign him long term, and it's hard to pay him on a nice one year deal
without more money to spend.

Carolina hasn't made, as far as anyone's aware, overtures toward other
pending starters as free agents (CB Captain Munnerlyn, S Sherrod
Martin), yet. At all three positions, it feels like it's time for an
overhaul - S will also likely drop Haruki Nakamura, CB would likely also
cut Chris Gamble, DT will cut Ron Edwards. So, those three positions
would retain only one starter (Charles Godfrey) from its six starting
slots.

So, in a way, I can see retaining Edwards, or at least playing him off
Chris Canty, and seeing who might be willing to make something happen.
Canty is a better overall player - Edwards is mostly a rush/penetrate
guy, who can't help much against the run. But, with a better nose
tackle, would either be OK?

This shouldn't impact the draft - none of them are good enough to keep
Carolina from dropping a high pick on a DT.

The 40

It's about that time of year - with the combine in full swing, it's
time to drool over, argue about, and debate the effectiveness of, 40
yard dash times.

This year even came with the increasingly present opinion from Bill
Polian (who's rapidly reaching a point of saturation), who not unlike
the late Al Davis, thinks it's remarkably important. And, this is that
time of year that becomes popular to dust off last year's complaints
about the 40's hype. They'll show that two other WR and one TE went
before Jerry Rice, they'll show you every Trung Canidate that ran some
blazing 40 time and busted.

There's a delicate balnce there. It's just one part of the puzzle, and
how you view the player's tape is still more important. But it has to
translate from tape (the system the player's in, the players around him)
the same way it has to translate from the 40 to the skills used on the
field.

You also have to decipher what that speed means, based on position, and
playing style. A 170 lb receiver that long-strides his way to top speed
is a lot different than a 220 lb guy that does the same; the same two
sized players that get up to full speed at 10 yards are completely
different players as well. You apply the other characteristics (can a
guy beat the press? can he run the shorter routes to take advantage of a
corner that's scared?) to your existing scouting.

But, in the end, it's just another part of a grade. It can be a
tiebreaker, a way of classifying what a player is ("he's a deep threat,
and we value that hard in Coryell", or "we have him rated highly, but
we're really looking for a slot guy and his routes aren't clean"),
whatever you want. So it really makes sense that it's a debateable
ideal, since everyone seems to use it differently in the NFL, and those
aren't the same people sensationalizing it in the press.

So, is the 40 as a standalone a massive deal? Not really on its own.
That, plus shuttle/cone trials and a few other drills, give an idea for
raw athleticism. You apply that based on its usefulness. Same as you
would a vertical, a high or low bench press. You look for minimum and
maximum values and maybe you weed out guys that don't meet those
minimums.

It might also let you look at a guy differently - a a 6'1, 220 lb guy
looks like a terrible TE at this level. If he's played TE, he might not
have shown his speed; if he comes and runs hard, can he be a receiver?
Has he had the tape to show you what he could do? Maybe not.

So, the only other thing I figure might be useful - if it's not done
already - is to have a pre-workout scouting grade for a player, and a
post-workout grade.

Which creates its own issues. Then it becomes, how do you weigh each?
Do you keep a separate draft board for pre- and post- grades? That
feels unnecessarily complicated (unless you have a low level scouting
assistant maintaining the separate draft board), so then you have your
final grade, with the pre-draft grade added as an after-thought.

Don't know. That's for the pros to decide. But, I doubt the average
scout is really worrying as hard about 40 times as talking heads this
time of year, the same ones reporting them as feverishly as they come.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Johnson, Other Contracts?

The decision to renegotiate Ryan Kalil's contract, apparently a
pre-scheduled deal (convert the roster bonus part, anyway), was still a
bit of a surprise for me. Kalil's massive deal is cumbersome, and he's
in for the long haul.

But is that last part why it makes sense? He's here one way or
another, for a long time. Jordan Gross is the team's 2nd highest paid
overall player on his 2009-signed 6 year, $56 million deal. And it's
expected his will be extended - a bit different from converting Kalil's
deal, to a point, in that it'll add up to two years.

So, if the bigger deals are still in play for negotiation, I wanted to
take a look at a few other deals and see whether there's room (and
whether it's worth it).

*Charles Johnson - the team's largest deal right now. Salary is a
total $7 mil including bonuses, which is behind Gross ($8.7M) and Gamble
($7.95M). He already carries $6 mil per year in bonus proration, so
adding a ton onto what's happening now will make it more cumbersome.
But, he's only now 26. He's coming off his best year. He's not going
anywhere.

So, what they could do is convert most of his salary, and let's add a
year to help ourselves out. $6 million over the four years that are left
on his contract, and the new year, mean that you can spread it out
through 2017. And $6 million isn't bad for that length ($1.25 million
per year). It leaves a savings of $4.75 million for 2013.

Or they could kick it up a notch, guarantee some of his 2014 salary ($9
million with workout bonus) this year as well - shave a total of $10
million, which cuts his 2014 salary to $5 million, saves you $4 million
in cap in 2013 and $2 million in 2014 [$4 million saved, minus the total
$2 million per year additional proration). That leaves only 2015 as a
huge year - $10 million salary, $18 million total cap hit. By 2016,
there's no proration, so he comes back down to $13 million total cap
hit. It's not wise to go too far if you think Johnson's not in your
plans, but he clearly is.

*Chris Gamble - his salary this year makes him a clean cut, but he's a
guy who can be negotiated to a new deal just like Gross. I'll save you
the specifics, but take the salary (let's say $7 mil of his 2013 salary)
and spread it across however many additional years. Savings is (7 mil)
- (proration for the year). He does have one more year next year, with
no bonus proration as of now. Gamble is 29, 30 by the season.

*Jon Beason - this one is more questionable. He's not the team's MLB
anymore, which might mean they can see about a reduction in pay. For
him, he gets more guarantee, if not quite as much as if he were a
healthy MLB. Since he earns a total of $5.5 mil with roster bonus in
2013, take $4.5 mil of that and spread it 2013-2016. 4 years, so $1.125
mil proration each year. Savings? $3.375 million. But, it makes him
harder to cut in 2014, the first year the team could release him without
a massive penalty.

*Deangelo Williams - another like the above Beason deal. The team
could live without him, but if they did it, do they take the hit now or
later? Williams appears somewhat destined to go, but there's a reason
they could wait a year - if he doesn't have trade value, he's a lot more
cuttable next year. Do you pay him $5 mil this year in salary to not
have a cap penalty? Maybe.

But if they did do something to renegotiate, they could move up to $4
mil over the three years he's got left, for savings of $2.667 million.

*Greg Olsen - here's an interesting one. Clearly in the team's plans,
Olsen makes a reasonable $4 million with workout bonus (seems like all
of these big contracts come with those every year). Signed through
2015, Olsen is 27; he'd be 31 at the end of that contract. Adding a
year isn't unreasonable at all. Take $3 million, add another year in
2016; spread that over all four years, and you get a total of $2.25
million in savings, and another year of security on that deal.

Outside of Cam Newton (not negotiable until after year 3) and Steve
Smith (just signed last year), that's the top 9 cap figures this year.

10 is James Anderson, who makes about as much to cut as to keep, but
saves a lot to cut next year. 11 is Charles Godfrey, who really doesn't
make that much this year and whose contract spikes in 2014 (so he better
start worrying about earning that money); then Ron Edwards, who is
currently doomed. After that, no one really makes anything worth
spreading (Thomas Davis has a big contract, but makes $1.5 million - not
much room to cut really).

But, you can see that, even taking Gross/Gamble (two guys who'll be
dealt with, regardless) out of the equation, you could probably add
another starter just by monkeying with one big contract. It's doubtful
they renegotiate everything they can, but you never know. And if they
do, this is what it'll look like.

Re: Cap update

Yesterday, I suggested that Carolina is, depending on who you ask,
somewhere between $7 and $11 million over the cap. Discrepancies
between the Charlotte Observer and espn.com's Pat Yasinskas had two
different transactions in doubt.

So it's good, but not clarifying, news to know that the cap has
actually gone up.

Teams have a total of $122 million to spend for 2013 now, which puts
Carolina anywhere from $5.5 million (if Kalil saves $3.45 million
instead of $2.2, an Observer discrepancy) to 9.5 (if Kalil does save
only $2.2 million and Carolina didn't move around $3 million from the
2012 cap, which Yasinkskas reported and then potentially forgot about).

So the median amount, the hedging of those two bets, suggests the team
is at $6.7 million. The expected (and in my opinion, very unfortunate)
release of Chris Gamble would save $7.9 million, which clears enough
space, but they may cut the below first:

*Ron Edwards, $2.4 million
*Haruki Nakamura, $966,000
*Garry Williams, $1 million

for a full savings of $4.3 million or so (which, again, is about what
rookies will cost to sign in July/August).

They also would likely restructure Jordan Gross' deal in one of those
"last contract" forms that would give him an extra year or two. At
almost 33, and signed through '14, they'd add maybe two years at most
(that's 35, 36 to retire). Taking his $8.7 million salary, and moving
$7 million over four years as a bonus, means $5.25 million in new space,
in what would only add $1.7 million to the cap in future years. His
salary, and bonus proration, both go down in '14 anyway (he takes a $2
mil dip in salary, has a $1 mil roster bonus next year that would count,
but then his $1 mil proration from year 1-5 don't make it out to '14
that offsets the roster bonus).

I'd prefer a similar deal for the younger Gamble as well, but all signs
point to Gross getting to stay, and Gamble going. Since that shouldn't
likely happen, $7.9 million for his cut, plus the above three
roleplayers being cut, and Gross' eventual restructure all add up to
$17.45 million. Minus the current deficit (my own estimate at $6.7 mil,
navingating the press screwups), and $4.3 million for rookies, that's
$6.45 million to use on a couple of needed starters*. Anything more
would come with greater sacrifice.

*2 deals that would look something like this:
$2 million first year salary, and a $1.25 million per year bonus
proration (i.e., a 5 year deal would mean a $6 million signing bonus).
Salary can escalate from $2 mil to $4-5 mil by 2016-17 for, let's say, a
5 year, $20 million deal. That type deal gets you a James Anderson
level player, which, at somewhere like safety and corner, might make
more of a difference than what is currently at LB, where Anderson can be
very productive but is also the team's 4th best player if all is
healthy.

Really, what you should be able to buy there is someone who's better
than a roleplayer, but not a star. Someone who you should be able to
plug in and forget about for a few years. We could definitely use two
from this group - G, CB, DT, S. That'd help draft prep a ton (it would
move those two spots as depth needs, not starter needs) and let you grab
the best player at 14, not the biggest need. The team could also pick up
a bunch of roleplayers (6 players that would make $1 mil apiece) or any
combo between that group, but I doubt they'd pick any one player that
would make more than the modest contract I outlined above. That's about
what they could offer a Kenny Phillips or Chris Canty, at most.

So that's where things sit, a few expected moves over the next week or
so, and what they might be able to do with it. Let's see what happens.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Cap update

The media in general appears to be confused about the cap issues, and
in turn they're confusing everyone else.

First, there was a suggestion by Pat Yasinskas that the Panthers were
at $131 million after moving some 2012 cap space to 2013; then he
reported that Ryan Kalil's restructure leaves them at $131 million.

At the time there was a statement that Kalil's restructure included a
$2.2 million savings. Jason Jones of the Observer now reports it to be
$3.45 million. So, which is it? I feel like I have a good handle on
this stuff, and their hesitance and story-changing over time has cast
some doubt on that.

If we go with the best case scenario - $131M before Kalil's restructure
- Carolina's at $127 mil and change. Going with the worst - $131 after
Kalil's $2.2 mil changeup - that's a whole different situation.

It feels like the most likely scenario is $131 million before Kalil's
$2.2 million change, based on the math I can find on Kalil's contract.

The discrepancy is apparently whether Kalil, due a $4 million option
bonus, received that bonus. He converted $5 million in salary to
guarantee, which definitely happened, but did he take a cut on the
amount of the option bonus? My guess is no, and there's no real reason
he would, but I don't know. spotrac.com, which isn't official, suggests
they prorated 2.05 million from here out for five years, which including
a $250,000 workout bonus, is $1.8 million per year from here on (1.8 mil
* 5 years is $9 million total, so both the bonus and guaranteeing the
salary would've happened).

So, it's an odd situation. Since Yasinskas seems to have Kalil's math
correct, but obviously re-reporting the $131 million both before and
after a cut in Kalil's number would be a major oversight.

Carolina is, depending on who you ask, somewhere between $7 and $11
million over the cap. It's almost time to do the wrong thing with Chris
Gamble and cut him, and then the requisite extension of Jordan Gross'
contract. Then, they'll drop some underperforming roleplayers (Ron
Edwards, Haruki Nakamura, and so on), and hopefully make something
interesting happen after that.

Until then, we'll get inundated by cap numbers that the pro writers
can't get straight, until the national media eventually chimes in with
the right number.

OL Theory: Quantity Over All Else

There's plenty going around about linemen this year, including a
suggestion from Mike Mayock about guard Chance Warmack going #1 overall.
It's a risky suggestion, honestly. There's no doubt that, per snap, an
elite lineman can provide as much as any other player for impact. There
was a suggestion that the line was what killed Andy Reid in
Philadelphia.

Which brings me to a point of contention - with Carolina already using
two elite-level contracts on linemen, and the parallel of the Eagles
having paid heartily all five linemen in one form or another.

Is it better to have five incredible linemen, or have three plus four
guys fighting for the rest? In other words, does a team like Philly -
who had a lot invested in a good line, that one by one got hurt, hurt
themselves by not being able to invest in depth? Competition can be
depth - not always, of course, you could have a good player win and
trash backing him, or trash v/s trash fighting for a job, I guess in a
worst case scenario. And, there's nothing that says you can't back up
high paid vets with quality. But, in the Eagles' case, it didn't work.
Yes, Philly's issues are a worst-case. But you have to be prepared for
that, and they weren't. They had five guys, and guys 6-9 on the roster
weren't good. So off the street, that gets even worse.

So is it better to have a Geoff Schwartz, a modest priced guard/tackle
for the right side, paired with a later pick, than to anticipate a
Warmack? It seems so. Would Warmack tend toward greatness? Quite
possibly. Is depth better? I'm tending toward yes. That two
incredible linemen and a lot of growth/depth/ability is better than five
guys and that's all you get.

To that end, just philosophically, I'm suggesting that without the
burden of being on the clock at pick 14 or knowing who's left, it might
still be better to take a guy you might get 70% of snaps at DT, and yet
help resolve that pick first, and pour numerous picks into OL after.
Is one guard, or the more valuable tackle instead, going to help?
Assume yes. But if you can get a vet cheaply, and a later guard AND
tackle, that feels just as good.


Either way, you always have to drop picks on offensive linemen. Every
draft. Early and often. That saves this problem one way or another.
In this case, I don't find that quality will necessarily lack with
quantity.

Monday, February 18, 2013

First Round Good For Carolina

2013's first round pick is largely the best way for Carolina to add
talent for the season, and for the future. With back to back rookies of
the year (Cam Newton as offensive in '11, Luke Kuechly in '12), the
Panthers got two stars with long term ability, at a price they couldn't
have possibly afforded if they'd gone for that level player in free
agency.

Right now, the first round hasn't even settled out. You're still in
that period of analysis where any of 70 people could be first rounders.
There's no consensus #1, no top QB, and no top RB. Because of that,
most analysts have called this a poor draft up top. Some suggest the
difference between the 6 pick and the 26 pick isn't really that major,
either.

But, that's not the case for Carolina. This is a draft rich in big
bodies, and toughness - two things the Panthers desperately require.
They're also, in general, high value picks.

Carolina doesn't really require an edge rusher right now - though with
Greg Hardy being a free agent in a year, you could make a case if you
really wanted by stashing a Barkevious Mingo on the team. It really
doesn't help you much at DT, and Greg Hardy's just not a guy I'd put
inside that much. He's good, and he's big enough, but he still makes
his living playing the OT. So I'm not going to worry too much at this
point, about

At DT, the biggest of needs comes into the heart of the first round's
most stocked position. You can potentially pick your flavor - if
massive do-everything guys Star Lotuleilei and Johnathan Hankins project
above Carolina's pick, there's still the super athletic, long legged
Sheldon Richardson (6'4, 295, Missouri) or the huge John Jenkins of
Georgia (6'2, 355). Scouts tend to diverge from there, but depending on
what happens, it's possible that NTs like Sharrif Floyd (6'2, 305,
Florida) or Jesse Williams (6'3, 320, Alabama and interestingly, with a
rugby past) or under tackles like Sylvester Williams (6'3, 305, UNC) or
Kawann Short (6'1, 305, Purdue) make sense.

As well, offensive line picks aren't exactly awe-inspiring at times,
but they're fundamental to good play in general. Want to impose your
will on a defense? No better way than to have good linemen. Carolina
has some needs on the right side, but who knows - maybe Jordan Gross
gets flipped over there. Maybe they luck out and find a right side guy
with rare athleticism. Or they find a guy who can be a rare
differencemaker at guard.

Starting with that guard and assuming that the team is OK with moving
forward with Byron Bell - you get Chance Warmack (6'4, 330, Alabama).
The idea of a guard is silly at 14 almost every time, and supposedly,
David Decastro was the best guard you'd see in a while (and he went in
the 20s, not even the highest taken guard in recent history). Warmack
appears to be better than that, in a similar offensive scheme. Warmack,
so far, has earned his place around the top 15, and doesn't appear to be
a worse lineman than his tackle counterparts. He just happens to play
guard, and apparently as good as anyone. A tenacious drive blocker, his
ability to reset the line of scrimmage is critical, and if you consider
the number of one-gap teams against zone blocking, moving a DT back
three yards means simply getting a shoulder on a couple of LBs to break
6-7 yards like it's found money.


At tackle, Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher both appear destined to go
ahead of the 14 pick, but so far, it appears there's plenty underheath
them. Primarily, DJ Fluker (6'6, 335, Alabama) started 36 games in 3
years at right tackle, and if he shows enough athleticism in workouts,
might be an ideal pick if Carolina wants a RT. Traditionally, teams go
for a LT that high, but it's tough to find much difference in locking
down one side at this point. Fluker, and Byron Bell inside if he were
able, would provide a very athletic but massive pair on that side.

For a more traditional LT, scouts again disagree, but it feels like the
top guy left would be Oklahoma's Lane Johnson (6'7, 305). His top
concern is adding weight, and the former TE/DE only has two years
starting (23 total games, one year RT, then one year LT). That
versatility can't hurt, but there's certainly a positive when you've
started more than two seasons.

Still, plenty of options, and it feels like it's a draft that continues
to be heavy on the heavies later in the draft (Barrett Jones of Alabama,
as a RG with a center's mentality, makes a lot of sense in round 2;
there are plenty of gap-shooting DTs, though it's hard to say who falls
to mid-2nd round).

So what's not a massively interesting draft for those expecting a
bunch of fantasy players, should remain interesting for those that are
ready to see their teams toughen up. Luckily for Carolina, that's
exactly what they need.

Woodson, Canty Can't Cure Panthers

Chris Canty wants to take a hometown discount, and Charles Woodson is
looking. Does this complete the Panthers' defense?

In a world with unlimited chances and no consequences, of course.
Woodson is still a very good defender, if not as good at coverage. As a
nickel, he has corner skill and linebacker ability around the line -
he's the idea hybrid defender, the guy who can take on a tight end split
out, or beat a block and take down the ballcarrier. Canty, in theory,
is a better option historically over Dwan Edwards, and a better run
defender. That fills their DT hole, with some help from a rookie nose
tackle in the draft.

But, that's not the world we love in. Far from.

Woodson, for one, at 37 will want a high amount of money right now.
Canty's expected value suggests that any "discount" will still be rich
for the team's ability, currently over the cap and facing some very
difficult choices with veteran starters like Chris Gamble and Jordan
Gross.

Even then, I don't know that either player would provide enough on
their own. Canty, without a good nosetackle, probably takes on too many
doubleteams to be productive inside. Woodson here, without good corners
on the outside, just means the QB stays on his primary target.

I also think it's interesting Ahmad Bradshaw was dropped, given that I
was beaten over the head about how Bradshaw was a better option than
Deangelo Williams. Sometimes the better cap contract still doesn't help
you. Williams himself might be dealt with, of course. Any second
contract for a running back can tend toward harm for the player or team,
and I don't have a solution for it.

For now, it appears it will take more inexpensive options to fill
similar needs. Let's hope new GM Dave Gettleman has it in him to find
some bargains.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Kalil restructures




Center Ryan Kalil, signed to a new deal in 2011, has restructured his deal. 

He’s moved $4.75 million in salary and added it to a workout bonus, to move $5 million across four years.   It adds to a 2013 option bonus of $4 million that will count against this year and future years.  The net savings is $2.2 million.  It increases future years’ total cap hit by $1.8 million per year. Any cap acceleration would cost $5.65 million per year through 2015, plus another $4 million total through 2017.

ESPN currently suggests that the move leaves the team at $131 million, but in this prior article:
http://espn.go.com/blog/nfcsouth/post/_/id/44306/updated-2013-salary-cap-space
ESPN states it was already at 131.7 million.  Which would currently drop Carolina to 129.5 million.

Either way, the team has the need to get to $120 million.   The team also needs $4.3 million for draft picks, at the very least; that goes without any replacement players.

I’m honestly a bit surprised that new GM Dave Gettleman is employing such a tactic first, before looking at more friendly contracts. In looking at 2013 and 2014, I really had not considered Kalil’s contract one that needed immediate manipulation, and he didn’t take a pay cut.  He wasn’t going to be cut.  So it’s an odd place to start.  But, it’s a start.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

2014


Various contracts will hit 2014 and start making sense to cut, if the performance isn’t up to value.

The below all assume that these players make it through 2013 without renegotiation or restructure, and are on the team for ’13 (i.e., the 2014 bonus proration counts against 2014, no matter what). It also assumes that none of them would be cut as June-style cuts this year, and all of the potential cuts are treated as standard for 2014 as well.  Otherwise, you could just save the entire salary, and that future proration just counts the following year for more savings.

Examples:
*Charles Godfrey – ’14 salary/roster bonus, $5.1 mil.  $2.1 million in guarantees count for ’14 if he makes it through this year, regardless; there’s $3 million in guarantees  from ’15-16 that would still be out there.  Net savings would be $2 million, enough to use to replace him as necessary.

*Jon Beason – ’14 salary, $6.75 million with workout bonus.  $4 million, the 2015 bonus proration, is still unaccounted, so if Beason were cut, the savings is still $2.75 million.

*Deangelo Williams - $6 million ’14 salary with workout bonus.  His contract ends after 2015, so $3.2 million would accelerate from that year; that’s a savings of $2.8 million.

*Thomas Davis – his ’14 salary escalates to $2.75 million.  He pushed a signing bonus back to that year ($2.5 million), which wouldn’t count if cut.  He has $1.4 million of future (2015) proration that would count if cut, so he’d save $1.35 million.  Similarly, James Anderson goes from a net $200,000 to cut this year, to a $2.6 million savings, if you prefer.

So just from a canvas of deals that are tough to deal with this year, and easy to deal with next, there’s $11.6 million that you could cut.  That’s not a full picture, just a couple of contracts I picked out that could be a lot easier to deal with. Greg Olsen, among others, would be a lot more pliable.  I assume that, one way or another, Chris Gamble and Jordan Gross’ current contracts are dealt with before then.

It’s also the final year of Cam Newton’s rookie deal, in which the team has a 5th year (2015) option that would pay him equal to the franchise amount for a QB.

In each case, it would be prohibitive to cut the player in 2013 – it would cost more to cut than to keep.  It’s interesting all of these contracts were setup that way , in what would’ve been directly after Ron Rivera’s third season (generally, with a year left, a coach has either earned a new contract, or earned his release by then).   So, I don’t know if it was just the way things set up given that most of these contracts were 2011, or if there was some concerted effort to have a line drawn in the sand for that season.   But, if he can get through ’13, Dave Gettleman has a lot of options for the year after.

Beason Outside Has Its Challenges

Jon Beason knows his role, and that's a good start.

After initially suggesting he should remain at MLB, Beason more or less
gets that it's not his job anymore. He's aware enough to know that's
still his best slot, and that it's not really going to happen. Since
he's got such a massive contract - one that's been criticized, but one
that really did fit his play and position in a world where it was his
defense and his Achilles tendon wasn't compromised - it's hard to say
what the future holds, but the team simply can't cut him right now,
either.

So that leaves another shoe to drop.

New GM Dave Gettleman suggests he isn't the sentimental type, but the
team does have ties to Thomas Davis, the incumbent WLB who finally made
it through the year after barely making it through a few practices
between 2009-11. Davis makes $1.5 million next year, which will become
a huge bargain as time goes along if he can remain durable. And, Davis
has only played WLB. James Anderson is the incumbent at SLB, and he
saves only a very, very modest amount to cut ($200,000).


So the team will probably have four starting level LBs on a team
that'll only play 3 (and will play Kuechly on nearly every down, as I
don't think he missed a single play since becoming MLB). A 3-4 isn't
that useful - none of the four are that good at rushing. It would free
up Beason and Kuechly to play ILB together, a strength, but would
provide minimal ability at OLB, where neither Davis nor Anderson are
going to hold up against OTs.

One way to play it would be to have three DL and three LB on nickel -
which could afford the team the ability a lot more flexibility - but
that's 20 extra snaps at most. If it were me, I'd honestly just look
at Beason at the strongside, and keep Anderson as a utility guy. You
have your depth, even if it's ridiculously expensive (Anderson would
count $4.4 million against the cap if his contract remains unchanged).



Beason himself has spent time outside - he started there at times in
college before becoming another in the long line of University of Miami
middle linebackers, and returned to weakside linebacker for a moment
before succeeding another U of M MLB in Dan Morgan. A return in 2010
was more or less dismal. Since then, Beason has been injured, giving one
game in 2011 and a quarter season in 2012 before the combo of a knee and
shoulder injury did him in.






The widespread feeling is that Beason will never be the same after the
achilles, and then point to the 2012 rash of injuries as proof. The end
result is that Beason looked pretty good early in the season, while Luke
Kuechly struggled, until the knee issue came aboard. That's when Beason
looked terrible in coverage and started to lack mobility. The time off
can't hurt the achilles, honestly.









Now, about his contract - Beason makes $5.25 million this year in base,
and another $250,000 in workout bonus. He's got $4 million in bonus
proration that counts either way - and two more installments of that for
2014 and 2015. So it'd be a $3.5 million cost to get rid of Beason.
They could spread it out, save the entire $5.5 million this year and
spread all $8 million next year with a June-style cut, but that doesn't
seem to be helpful, either.

They could rework the contract - move $4 million in salary to bonus and
spread it across the four years remaining (there's no 2016 bonus
proration, yet) for a net savings of $3 million - but that would only
exascerbate the future issue of Beason's viability, giving a 2014/2015
cap hit of 11.75/12.75 million in those seasons.

Chances are, the team will play Beason as-is for the year, see how he
fits, and look at realistic renegotiation in 2014. At that point, his
$6.75 million salary/workout bonus pairing becomes somewhat cuttable
(the net is a loss, but the $4 mil from 2014 would count either way, so
it's a $6.75 million savings minus the 2015 proration of $4 mil). When
you can ably part with a valuable player, you can negotiate with him on
what might be a more acceptable salary. Of course, he could choose to
take a paycut this year, but it'd have to be voluntary, and the team
won't have leverage if he chooses not to take a cut.

Ryan, Saints An Odd Marriage

Rob Ryan's been an interesting case over time.

He interviewed here a couple years ago - there was even a time last
year where I considered him a guy who'd get another shot, before the
wheels fell off the Dallas defense. Truth is, in retrospect, he's
never really had good defenses.

It looked like he was going to get the Rams job, and then that fell
completely apart. When that happened, the Saints had determined that
they would move 3-4, another oddity; they don't have that much that
fits. But, as it came together, the Saints still needed a coordinator,
and Ryan still needed a job. Actually, I don't know for certain it's a
done deal there, either. Ryan is volatile, and Sean Payton is
desperate. I read yesterday there were issues with a clause prohibiting
Ryan to talk to the press; then a suggestion that it's impossible, since
a contract isn't done - days after a tenative agreement.

So, for now, let's assume it's going to happen. They do need each
other. It's intriguing, but it's not currently a cause for worry.
Ryan's scheme is very specific, and considered by many to be "too
complex". Specific to Carolina, it's not as big a worry since Carolina
plays so much spread, and the zone read negates the speed of a faster
rusher.

Even before Ryan, there wasn't a lot of worry that the 3-4 was a good
fit. Will Smith, once considered a good end, probably gets gone.
Cameron Jordan makes some sense at one end spot, and Ryan's been dogged
in his ability to get free agent 3-4 guy Brian Schaefering to follow him
when able. I don't see Sedrick Ellis as a good fit, and there's no nose
tackle in there.

Initially, the ILB set has promise - Vilma and Curtis Lofton. But,
Vilma didn't fit in the Jets' 3-4, and that was years' worth of mileage
ago. David Hawthorne, their strongside, might have the ability to fit
inside, but no ability to fit outside. The Saints seem poised to make
the obvious move to pay Anthony Spencer big bucks to play OLB, but they
have massive cap issues as well.

They really don't have anyone in the secondary that can play the
man-free scheme that Ryan has preferred for years - the Cowboys spent
big to get Brandon Carr and to trade up for Morris Claiborne, and the
results weren't really there. Before that, the Raiders had spent
massive amounts to keep Nnamdi Asomugha at franchise quarterback rates,
because he was the best man cover guy in the league. To top that, it
looks like Roman Harper is a cap casualty, and while an upgrade is
possible, it'll cost the team to take Harper's cap hit and provide that
upgrade.

So, it'll take a while to implement Ryan's vision, and take up a lot of
resources to do so. It's an odd marriage, but obviously not wanting the
Saints to have success, fine by me.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Potential Cuts

Now that I've put out some commentary on the two largest potential cuts
in Chris Gamble and Jordan Gross, time to complete the picture. Here's
my opinion on how to clear a total of $22 million*.

Easy Cuts

Ron Edwards, $2.4 million - Carolina needs a guy just like this, but
Edwards himself was only that guy for 11 games over two years, and he
wasn't as impactful as most assumed.

Garry Williams, $1 million - a backup who got hurt early in 2011,
spawning the re-sign of Geoff Hangartner. He's not a starter, and the
team knows that.

Haruki Nakamura, $900,000 - Nakamura is a very good special teamer, and
he knows the game. He's rarely out of position, but the Atlanta game
haunts him. Carolina tried this, and it had mixed results. On a team
with stronger options and space to keep him, he'd be an ideal backup who
could give you 20+ snaps a game playing on every special teams unit.
But here, they need a starter, and they've gotta go get that first.


We come out of this section with $4.3 million; sadly enough, that's
right about at the amount that I have listed at the bottom of the
article to sign roleplayers that would likely end up replacing the
players above. But, if any of the above had earned the modest contracts
they had, they wouldn't need replacing.


The Hard Cut

Gamble, $7.9 million - again, what seems like a no-brainer isn't an
easy decision to me. Gamble's leaving creates a big hole in the
secondary, no matter what happened in his absence.

The Restructure

Jordan Gross, $5.25 million
By adding two years to Gross' deal (that currently has only 2013 and
2014 on it), and dropping his 2013 salary by $7 million, Carolina
spreads out that existing salary across four years and both sides gain
security. The team could easily do this for Chris Gamble, too - and
save a similar amount, but that may not be in the cards.

The Late Cut

Deangelo Williams, $4.75 million - is vauable to the team. And, Mike
Shula is the type coordinator more likely to use both Williams and
Jonathan Stewart. However, my guess is that the New Orleans game to end
the season didn't impress outsiders (including Dave Gettleman) enough to
have value here or in trade. So my guess is, they'll get past the
draft, and not have a lot of options. Williams (in my estimation) won't
take a paycut and won't have trade value, so he'll end up a June cut
(the team could exercise that type cut in Feburary, sure, but I don't
think they will).



*this would include a deficit of $11.5 million, the $4.3 million
estimated to sign draft picks, and $4.2 million worth of players to sign
at very modest contracts. Anything more than that would require greater
cuts/restructures.


The team comes out of that with $22.2 million saved. That's a hair
more than required, though that still leaves the team with only $6.4
million to spend (along with the 14, 45, and 105 picks). With that
money, you have to go get two starters at DT, at least one starting OL,
a decent backup TE, a good fullback or backup RB depending on where you
put Mike Tolbert, two corners, and probably a safety.

That's eight needs, without touching things like whether you want an
upgrade at veteran WR, line depth, or upgrading the backup DTs, DEs,
etc. Or, God forbid, extending a player like Greg Hardy. It's still a
thin margin. Maybe there's additional relief in eating more proration
in 2014 (cutting a lower tier guy like James Anderson for smaller gain,
or a higher risk and less likely cut like Jon Beason), but that doesn't
seem like Gettleman's style.

Gambling On Gamble

In his last few years, Chris Gamble hasn't been true to his name.
He's not fighting for the risky INT, but he'd been doing a fantastic job
of showing a receiver to be covered (enough to have a very low QB
rating, due to a low amount of targets). He's not the boom or bust guy
that was drafted in 2004. Consequently, he doesn't make a ton of big
plays (compare that to the 2 pick-sixes that Captain Munnerlyn had, and
the one Charles Godfrey had against Drew Brees), but don't let that
convince you that Gamble isn't valuable.

Amidst one of the poorer defenses in 2011, Gamble was rated as the 6th
best corner by profootballfocus.com for QB rating; this year, before
getting hurt, he was top in the league for yards per route run at .45.
He was holding his man in check. they had him rated very high in 2010,
a season interrupted by small injury and a very public benching for
private words.

So there are a few ups and downs there. But I'm not ready to give up
on him.

I might be the only one, though. Check with the Observer, and they
have him as a must-cut. They cite him coming up on 30, and his high cap
hit. It's interesting to note that Jordan Gross' age isn't brought up
(he'll be 33 coming into the year), and that Gross would save more ($8.7
million, versus $7.9 million) but he's universally accepted as staying
(while Gamble is just assumed as gone).

The end result is that both players have a lot of value. Both are
valuable. I don't find OL to be more valuable than CB - only thing I'd
really say is that DBs coach Steve Wilks did more with less than OL
coach John Matsko. But to find equivalent players for either guy would
be difficult. So I'd easily look to add years to either guy's contract
(neither have more than two years left) to free up space.

I don't know that Dave Gettleman will see it the same way. Who knows-
maybe he does see Gamble as the magic bullet that saves most of the
remaining cap space (that $7.9 mil is about 68% of what's needed to get
to the cap, though the team will need about double that to add in draft
picks). But, in my opinion, it shouldn't be an easy choice.

That equivalent cost of replacement could come with a draft pick, sure.
But if the team drops $8 mil to get under the cap for Gamble, and then
drafts a 1st round CB, have they improved? They'd still have one good
corner, but the equivalent is the loss of the top asset to improve (the
pick) in exchange for minimal talent gain if any, and a little youth
(Gamble's 30 years really isn't that old).

So, given the choice, I'd extend both, hoping for some level of smaller
contract than the $9 million deals that Gamble and Gross signed in 2008.
Steve Smith took less this time, hopefully they will as well, knowing
their value at this point in the game. It certainly looks like Gross
will get his chance at the table; I just hope Gamble gets his.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Colin Cole

Carolina added vet DT Colin Cole, who did not play in the 2011 or 2012
seasons, to a future contract.

The 6'2, 325 lb NT is a veteran of the Seahawks and Packers. His time
off includes an ill-timed ankle injury that saw him on the physically
unable to perform list in training camp, and then cut at the end of
camp, in 2011. He had the injury in 2010, missing five games and then
returning; a second offseason surgery is what took him out for 2011. I
can't find much on why he couldn't make it in 2012, or whether anyone
was interested.

If healthy and able, Cole is a massive 32 year old NT. If that sounds
familiar, it's similar to 33 year old Ron Edwards (a 325 lb journeyman
NT). Edwards missed all of 2011 and half of 2012, and would be worth
$2.4 million if released.

Of course, Cole wouldn't be a rock-solid replacement at this point,
either, and if the team was bolstering the NT spot without Edwards, it
would require a lot more than just Cole. However, it's expected that if
Cole can make the field, he'll be good veteran depth at a rock bottom
price. So, maybe it works out. I could completely see him starting
games; I could see him being cut in early parts of camp. Low risk
either way.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

WR Focus: FA

It's a passing league. Say what you will about what Mike Shula will do
- we really don't know - but this offense, chances are, will still rely
on Cam Newton's comfortability in shotgun and feature a healthy dose of
spread. It's a passing league.

So Carolina's gotta land that vet wide receiver, this time.

Under Marty Hurney and Ron Rivera, there was a propensity to be the
other team in negotiations. 2011 saw the team miss on guys like Santana
Moss, and potentially a few others including Malcolm Floyd; Moss, the
most documented case, was offered a deal equal to the Redskins but
couldn't close. Down to minimal options, the Panthers took on Legedu
Naanee and Seyi Ajirotutu, a pair of Chargers castoffs.

Last year, the team took a run at Jacoby Jones, apparently offering an
equal contract to the Ravens, and missing out. Lacking many options,
the team dropped a 7th round pick on Louis Murphy as a vet after trading
up to get WR/returner Joe Adams in the 4th. Neither gave significant
production. Murphy, per profootballfocus, ended up with fewer yards per
route run than anyone else in the league, and Adams was benched
midseason.

It's time to stop missing out. It's time to stop patching things up.
It's time to

Now, this comes with a caveat. Steve Smith is still and will stay the
focus. Greg Olsen really can't be utilized less. Whoever comes aboard,
fights with Brandon LaFell for time and for targets. The team doesn't
even look to have that much money. Numerous attempts at finding youth
for the job have fallen somewhat short (outside of LaFell, and a pretty
good rookie year by David Gettis). Piling on more draftees isn't the
way to go right now.

So, no Dwayne Bowe (not that I find him worthy). I'd look for a
roleplayer - someone who might be able to supplant LaFell's time in the
slot, for instance, and let him work the outside in 3 WR situations
again. LaFell has shown to be the player the team's going to put in
the slot most often, and yet he's also shown to be his best in deeper
and sideline shots where he can separate in shorter space or box out.

Right now, the free agent market doesn't look great for that roleplayer
(Brian Hartline, Danny Amendola fit a very specific type, and I'm not
that interested). But, the team needs a veteran hand in there. It's
time to stop letting them get away.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

2013 Coaching Staff

Assuming for now that the 2013 staff is complete, here's my quick
analysis of the current staff (and then, I'll shut up about it for a
bit, I promise).

2013 leads into a bizarre year for Ron Rivera, a year that shows some
growth and change mid-year, but that also makes me wonder why it
required change. He stated some changes after the Marty Hurney
departure, that suggested he didn't need to treat this team like it's
young since it's not - but that didn't change within Hurney's departure.
So he's less of a player's coach, and potentially able to delegate
more. Will the questionable calls with the game on the line improve?
Rivera would be a lot better than 13-19 if he could simply split the
close games - he'd have two winning seasons.



Offense:
Starting with the departures, Rob Chudzinski is a tough one to lose.
An innovative young mind under a system that hasn't seen much change in
a decade, some credit him most for the amount of success Carolina has
had in two years. There's also no doubt that he laid a strong
foundation, and that at times the calls were too cute or too pass heavy
(those two complaints are best found in the first Tampa game, in which
the leading rusher was slot WR Kealoha Pilares, for five yards).
There's no doubt it worked overall, but that there were still some
issues.

In Scott Turner (offensive assistant), you find someone who could've
moved up to a position coach, and might be a coordinator one day, but at
this point provided a lot more value to Chudzinski than Turner would
have as a remnant. Less valuable you find John Settle, a career college
coach with a bit of a history as a player, and Fred Graves (again with
mostly a college background), who were both quite replaceable. I don't
think either did a bad job, but I don't know that either fit.

Now, for the reorganization -
Mike Shula's history suggests he won't have the pass-heavy problem or
the problem of overthinking things. His Tampa history isn't awe
inspiring, but he's also not dealing with some of the same issues. More
dynamic backs, more talent at WR, and someone else has already set the
tempo. This may require some input from Ron Rivera, to make sure things
don't go too far the other way.

Still, bringing things back toward balance - more running, a little
less complexity for Cam Newton, combining the good things from the
second half of the year that led Newton to only throw 4 INT over the
last 9 games and pairing that with a stouter interior DL to bring up the
run defense, would allow the team a good balance between 2011's
offensive success and 2012's defensive abilities.

At QBs coach, Ken Dorsey makes sense. Shula will remain very involved,
but this did require a real coach, and while Dorsey has minimal
experience, he's a guy who can aid Shula without being out of place in
the coaching room. The team could've gone with more experience (John
Ramsdell, specifically) but Dorsey is a good fit. Similarly, it's hard
not to have some encouragement about Ricky Proehl, who more or less had
to do a couple of years as an assistant to get up to speed, but knows as
much about the position as any guy you'd get. Assistant Lance Taylor is
a good pickup as a quality control coach.

The Jim Skipper hire was bizarre, in that it should've just happened in
2011; however, that said, it's a good hire now and brings much needed
experience to a group Carolina must reap rewards from. He's got
coordinator experience, so he'll be an asset to the ground game.


Defense:
The team lost Bobby Babich, son of Jags DC Bob Babich, but he wasn't
even listed on the team site. The only real change here is in dropping
Warren Belin, but then hiring somewhat untested Al Holcomb. A hard
worker, he's in a similar situation as Proehl or Dorsey, but didn't have
the playing name. So he's gotten up the ladder with a bit more
scrapping. Honestly, I think this is one of those situations where
Rivera thought he could go get someone experienced in the pro game, but
was held back without a lot of buying power.

Special Teams

Richard Rodgers was well liked by the special teams guys, which is (per
the Observer) not something Brian Murphy could bring to the table.
Adding Bruce Dehaven eliminates some of the sting of not landing Dave
Toub or Bobby April.

Overall, it's a little young, but hopefully steady.

Shula could've used more experience under him, though I like the young
guys he pulled. Word is that Hue Jackson wasn't prepared like Shula
was, and that Pat Shurmur wasn't what they wanted at all - it may have
been that he was simply a guy to bring in and hope he would take a QBs
coach role. The young guys as a whole do bring a bit of pause - it's a
lot of youth - but individually I like what each brings (with a bit of
faith on the Holcomb deal). I still feel like the team could have
provided another defensive and offensive assistant, as well, but
hopefully some of that will be handled in pro scouting (assuming there's
aa greater investment, as I'd hope there is).

It's hard to say what Rivera had to work with. Assuming no one goes
Bill Musgrave on him, and no player goes Kevin Greene on any of them,
the only critical decision would've been Shula. Hopefully it all works
out.

Former Panthers Coaching In AZ

Brentson Buckner and Mike Caldwell, two members of the 2003 Super Bowl
Participant team, are now members of the Cardinals coaching staff.

Buckner, as line coach, is best remembered as being a loud-mouthed part
of the 2002-03 defensive lines, if not as much for openly loafing on the
team in a disastrous 2001 season. The 12 year vet had not played since
2005, and has no college or pro coaching experience (he coached private
high school in the Charlotte area for a short time).

Caldwell, who only played for Carolina in 2003, was a coach for the
Eagles from 08-12, starting with two years as a QC coach and finishing
as a full LBs coach. Caldwell was the only coach in the Juan Castillo
era that came out somewhat unscathed, since Castillo and DL coach Jim
Washburn were fired and DBs coach Todd Bowles was promoted. Bowles is
now DC with the Cardinals.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

More Staff, Including DeHaven

In a very, very bizarre twist after hiring Richard Rodgers as Special Teams coach after interviewing outside candidates, the Panthers have hired Bruce DeHaven as his assistant.

The long-time veteran special teams coach isn't someone I can find as a potential hire here in the past - the Panthers interviewed, and potentially offered, Dave Toub (now with the Chiefs) and Bobby April (now with Dallas) the job.  It's hard to say if they did offer - or whether they were guys who got the one-year deal that was rumored to go around to a lot of staffers.  But, both landed on other staffs, and then the Panthers hired Rodgers.

So, DeHaven was a surprise.  I'd have expected a college special teams coach looking for a break, or maybe somebody's kid looking for work.  DeHaven's more or less the league's senior special teams guy - spending the last 26 years in a special teams role, most notably with the Bills.

There doesn't appear to be any real link between he and Ron Rivera or any other staffers, they just brought him in, as an assistant to someone with one year pro experience.  Fair enough.  I'd feel better if it were the other way around, but whatever gets the job done.

The team also hired an assistant WRs coach, Lance Taylor; he spent the last three years with the Jets as quality control coach, his final year adding Assistant TEs coach to his title.   That would've put him in the same building as Dave Gettleman, the new GM.  But, he also played under Mike Shula at Alabama (2003). He ended up getting a graduate assistant coaching job at Alabama in 2007, the year after Shula left; he coached a year at Appalachian State before joining the Jets in 2010.

So that may be all the staff Carolina provides.  It lost more (it had an assistant WRs coach, and an offensive QC guy, but may replace both with Taylor; it also lost the uncredited Bobby Babich as a defensive assistant), but that's not necessarily how those roles will be filled.


Panthers' Record Not Great In Limbo Years

Jerry Richardson is competitive, but when it comes to coaching salary,
there's often a disconnect from that competitiveness.

So 2013's make or break year for the current regime has some noteworthy
history behind it, and that history isn't so great. It's far from the
first time that Richardson has kept a coach he wasn't sold on, and it's
difficult to find much positivity in the prior examples. Consider:

*1998 - Dom Capers had recently signed a so-called contract for life;
1997 was not cause for firing, by any means, but the team had spent on
some free agents (Ray Seals, Michael Barrow, Ernie Mills) and let some
incumbents go that had produced, with locker room leadership (Howard
Griffith, Mark Carrier, Greg Kragen, Gerald Williams). So 1998 came
with a mandate of win at all costs - so Carolina racheted up the money,
and Capers had the purse strings this year, so the team blew it out.
Doug Evans was supposed to finish out the secondary, at big money; the
team threw the house at the DL problem, a total of 3 #1s, and 2 3rd
rounders, to get Sean Gilbert, Jason Peter, Chuck Wiley, and Mitch
Marrow.

The result? A released QB (Kerry Collins), a cap situation that would
end up losing Blake Brockermeyer a year later; no 1st round pick to take
advantage of the poor year.

*2001 - coming off a bizarre spend on aging DL (Chuck Wiley, Eric
Swann, Reggie White) to fix a 1999 defense lacking in talent, 2000 saw
Steve Beuerlein's shoulder not responding to a very late offseason
surgery and a Patrick Jeffers injury. Richardson was unhappy with
George Seifert but didn't want to pay him - so the season was a building
year toward 2002 and the NFC South. It left Seifert without many WCO
pieces, and the drafting of a ton of defenders that wouldn't be ready to
save his job.

Result? Historic losing, Seifert mailing it in, the ending of various
QB's careers that were waiting for Beuerlein's own time to end; the
start of a Super Bowl losing team.

*2007, 2009 - you could argue that the 2007 and 2009 seasons were both
make-or-break John Fox seasons that squeaked by, thanks to late season
surges. Depends on whether you think he'd have been fired after either,
really (in my opinion, no to 07, maybe to 09). He did what was
required, but failures in 2009 helped cause 2010, in a way that Seifert
and Capers didn't have.

*2010 - a disaster in the making, it combined Richardson's stubbornness
with Fox's demanding to get paid, to go with the CBA issues hemming the
purse strings. By 2009, JR had reserved what Fox could do with staff,
and the team really didn't sign anyone of worth in free agency in 2009
or 2010.

Result? A largely wasted year (or couple of years, if you feel like
Marty Hurney should've gone with Fox) in 2010, and a number of draft
picks that didn't fit the future (the few that worked out). A cap
situation resolved, that went on to paying existing players (some
deserved, some not).

So that leaves 2013. The past doesn't doom Ron Rivera (and I hope it
doesn't). But will Richardson reserve some of Dave Gettleman's buying
power in anticipation of Rivera's potential departure? With the team
already reserving some of Rivera's abilities (offering some coaches only
one year deals), what else will hamstring him?

And in the end, while it might cost more to provide a potentially
doomed coach what he feels he needs, why not try? If a coach is on
short time, why not go ahead and drop him? I wouldn't have fired
Rivera, but it's hard to consider wasting a year if he's not going to
get proper support.