Just throwing out a quick idea of where I believe Carolina stands on
*QB - status quo
Cam Newton is enough. Right or wrong, and I believe it's the correct
call, Newton will probably take this team forward for the forseeable
future. I'm more than OK with Derek Anderson as a change of pace backup
for as long as he's interested. I don't, however, see the need being
circulated that a backup be cultivated with a similar skillset. For
one, needs are just too great elsewhere to go get a talented QB with
running ability, and two, this offense is more than running the football
from the QB position.
*RB - minor adjustment
I don't know what to do with this one. Deangelo Williams has already
thrown his contract into damage-control mode. Jonathan Stewart just
re-signed two years ago, so it's hard to say that will happen there.
But it might need to. Mike Tolbert is the team's best back, and they
have Kenjon Barner. SO it'll probably be the status quo, and they'll
probably have to rely on the OL to cause some improvement.
11th in rushing as a team is OK, but really, things should be better.
The team puts effort into it, and it has to improve. I just don't see
the team letting any of the above go, and I don't know if a healthy
Stewart is something you can expect or if that will create a massive
*TE - no change
The team doesn't have Ben Hartsock for next year, yet, but you may as
well assume it to be so. The third guy won't matter much, and might
end up playing behind sometimes-fullback Richie Brockel; they kinda like
Brandon Williams and just picked up DJ Jefferson to compete with him. I
don't know that the team has much need if Hartsock returns, and I assume
he will at a low price.
*WR - wide open (which is rare)
Only Steve Smith and 5th/6th guys Marvin McNutt/Tavarres King are under
contract. Brandon LaFell, a four year starter, and backups Ted
Ginn/Domenik Hixon are free agents. They might keep some of them, or
none. It's a thin free agent class (sadly enough, Carolina offers some
of the more interesting names). Hakeem Nicks is an outside option, but
he's also been hurt and spent last year tremendously unproductive.
Draft holds plenty of opportunity.
Either way, they'll look to have a tandem of a big-bodied possession
guy and a guy with some speed, and they'll need it.
*OL - Aging
Jordan Gross and Travelle Wharton are guys I'd have to keep another
year. Ryan Kalil is definitely written in pen. They have an RFA year on
Byron Bell if they want it, and there's no reason to not keep him on
roster, but I don't know if he doesn't deserve to fight a rookie. If
you don't return Gross, you're looking at spending that resource on a
rookie LT now, and Bell becomes the guy who doesn't fight for a job.
With Wharton, you can pit the remaining 7 starting guards of the year
against each other. Without, you can survive, but you're not as good.
*DL - Don't Know
90% of this relies on whether the team keeps Greg Hardy. They can
survive with Charles Johnson and able backups Mario Addison, Frank
Alexander, and Wes Horton. They like the backups, but they're
physically not what Hardy is. You could do the Seahawks thing and
replace him with a bigger runstopper and a smaller rush guy, I guess.
It's hard to say what happens with Hardy himself who has addressed his
contract for each of the last six weeks, turned down an offer in
preseason, and finished the year strong.
Colin Cole ended up starting a lot, but he played about 30% of total
snaps, and he was the least effective of the quartet. It depends on
whether he'd be exceptionally cheap as to whether he stays; could also
find someone else that's young to fit with the rookies. There's also
that small chance that Dwan Edwards' $1.3 million finds him cuttable -
hurt for 5 games, Edwards was intended to start and only started 3 games
and, like Cole, ended up playing about 30% of snaps compared to the
rookies' 50-60% apiece. So either vet could conceivably go, though on a
non-cap strapped team, I don't know if either would deserve it.
*LB - Status quo
I can't see anything happening here. The team has a big quartet of
starters for three positions, and the cost is low enough. The special
teamers are all guys who can stay at a low rate. There's always whether
the team would want Dan Connor to return as a backup MLB, where the team
might feel deficient if they want both Chase Blackburn and AJ Klein
outside. Could also pickup a late guy since either guy can move inside.
*CB - Change
Who isn't FA? Josh Norman, Melvin White. White should compete for a
job next year but he's best suited to play occasionally. Norman still
has to show he can play within the system.
This more or less hinges on Captain Munnerlyn, who the team needs to
have return - he's a scrappy leader whose only real deficiency is
height. They could bring back Drayton Florence for minimal money, but
that'd be the only way. The team should look at young players who are
physical but spend more than the 5th rounder they put into Norman. A
2-3 year deal at a modest price for Munnerlyn and a draft pick would
definitely provide a little room to upgrade, having Florence or other
veteran would be a nice luxury, too.
They could always pull down a cut-list prospect like Asante Samuel,
*S - Maybe Less Change
Only guys under contract for next year are Robert Lester, Charles
Godfrey, and special teamer Colin Jones.
It'd be nice to keep Mike Mitchell and Quintin Mikell. Mitchell's
overblown stats might escalate his cost, though. Mikell would depend on
Godfrey being released ($2.1 million savings, or $3.1 if he's a June
cut), and whether they feel like Lester is ready (he was a good starter
in limited time, and a regular sub-in, though his last San Francisco
game left some things to be desired). If I had to guess, they'll cut
the catastrophically injured Godfrey, return Mitchell, and throw the job
to Lester and a very inexpensively bought veteran SS.
*Special Teams - No Clue
I'd like to think they'll return Graham Gano, who's been very good. No
idea, though, and I don't know if they have a lot of room to reward
kickers. Gano's performance has been fantastic, however.
They also have to come up with a returner, if Ginn's gone. Maybe that
job can be held by Barner.
The offense has needs that could pull in a position or two that might
not be expected - they need some playmaking, and they need some
toughness. So you never completely know what that'll mean.
As well, let's rank the pending FAs:
1. Greg Hardy - could define the course of the defense in this one
2. Captain Munnerlyn - not irreplaceable, but he's the one legitimately
good DB on the team.
3. Jordan Gross - his voidable contract determines how the team will
fix what's wrong with the OL (which isn't Gross)
4. Brandon LaFell - starting player at a position that's dying for an
upgrade, but it's hard to say what resources will be available
5. Mike Mitchell - well exceeded expectations, going from a guy who
looked too aggressive to start at SS to being a steady FS, but again at
a spot that still needs improvement. Is he Mike Minter or Marlon
6. Ben Hartsock - potentially the team's most important non-starter,
Hartsock is a fantastic sub-in player for run blocking.
7. Ted Ginn Jr - important to special teams and was a decent 3rd guy,
but at a position that's probably in flux
8. Quintin Mikell - important as a safety net if Mitchell is overpriced
9. Travelle Wharton - I don't think he has a high value in the market,
but guy was the difference between the OL being trash or being
10. I don't honestly find any player important after this
And then by need:
4. DL (pending Hardy)