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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Wharton Retires

I've been lax on discussing Travelle Wharton's retirement. I don't
intend disrespect - he was good, and he served here in Carolina for a
long time (I believe, 4th most starts all time for the team?). It's a
shame to see another long-tenured player skating out early - officially,
the fourth OL to retire this offseason. Granted, only Wharton and
Jordan Gross are truly significant, and it's tough to know that the team
won't have them as their LT/LG combo.

Wharton's Carolina history makes for a nice story, and his time with the
Panthers is great - but we all know of all that.

On a team with a significant youth presence (finally - after hearing for
years about "building through the draft", there are finally significant
contributors under 27), I'm now somewhat concerned about the veteran
side of that presence. Leadership, experience. It's not that Carolina
doesn't have it - and I'm OK with the 2007 vintage of two of Carolina's
three offensive leaders this year (Greg Olsen, Ryan Kalil), or the
supplement that's added by Jason Avant (2006) and Jerricho Cotchery
(2004). I'm very comfortable with what the youth of Cam Newton and Luke
Kuechly provides, too.

But what you got with Wharton, compared to some of the youth? Just a
known steadiness. Wharton, like many others lost in the last two years
that came from the mid-2000s, were veteran soldiers, now somewhat
casualties to Carolina's salary cap woes. On average, would you find a
Travelle Wharton (metrically, one of the better guards last year
leaguewide) worth $1 million? Now add in the loyalty that comes with a
guy like that saying he's willing to play for you and only you. In an
NFL culture that's been within free agency for twenty years, staying
around is a big deal. It's undervalued.

That's not to say that's the only thing that Carolina used when choosing
not to consider Wharton for another year. Certainly, they wanted more
solidarity at guard than last year, where they used a full ten players.
Wharton's pretty dependable, but he's not young. This would be year 11.
And they've found some value in drafting linemen high and hoping they
can just fit in. They've done it in each of the last three years.

But for that amount, Wharton could've provided a lot of value. It also
provides the value of holding off on that pick for another year. I'm
not suggesting they should've definitely kept him, and not picked Trai
Turner. That pick seems to be working out just fine. I'm just
lamenting the lack of choice.

Similarly, I fully expected Dwan Edwards to be cut this year. $1.2
million savings, free and clear. Doesn't seem like a lot for a veteran
DT who would probably be starting most places, and honestly, only injury
took him off the start last year (since the team had Colin Cole starting
over the much more able Kawann Short - Short played twice the number of
snaps but never started). Edwards might return to starting, who knows,
but his presence is valuable and useful. For all the quality of the
outside rush, Edwards is the only one that can add the exprience of
having been a good NFL pass rusher inside. Cole certainly can't. DL
coach Eric Washington is top flight, but he hasn't been that guy as a
player either (which is fine). Edwards can teach the youth some things,
and still provide his snaps.

It's no different than how a young Mike Rucker learned from Reggie
White, who he credits for teaching him how to be a pro. Rucker taught
Julius Peppers, Charles Johnson. Johnson taught Greg Hardy. That's how
you hand down information. That's history, culture.

It's simply the idea that Carolina might not be able to afford $1.2
million for a veteran backup that impacts its best unit. Or choosing
not to afford $1 million for potentially its weakest.

I love the concepts Dave Gettleman has brought in regarding low-cost
mercenaries and slowly working its way out of cap hell. But there's
something to be said for a Travelle Wharton, with nothing left to prove,
willing to put the body on the line for not much money, almost out of
just loyalty.
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