Carolina Panthers: Can A New Regime Bring Success?
The 2019 season for the Carolina Panthers fell apart very fast. Entering their bye week in Week 7 coming off a strong performance in London against the Buccaneers, the Panthers were sitting it with a 4-2 record. However, after their bye week they went 1-9 to finish the season 5-11. The season finished with eight straight losses and midway through that losing streak they sacked Ron Rivera after an embarrassing loss to the Washington Redskins.
Now with a new head coach in place in former-Baylor head coach Matt Rhule, they have some big decisions to make, especially around the quarterback position. Let’s take a look at the upcoming offseason for the Carolina Panthers.
General Manager: Marty Hurney
Head Coach: Matt Rhule
A rough season in Carolina saw a change at the head coach position, but many were surprised when Hurney did not follow Rivera out of the door. Owner David Tepper came out and said that Hurney’s ability to scout college players was the reason he is staying, which means the upcoming NFL Draft and the impact of the previous couple of drafts could decide whether we are talking about Hurney as GM this time next year.
Rhule has done a fantastic job turning around two college programs in Temple and Baylor, but his pro football experience is limited to one year as an assistant. He has been given a long-term contract so will be given every opportunity to build his culture.
Cap Space: $31.2 million
The Panthers cap situation is a bit middling. $30 million is a solid amount of space, especially if they believe that Newton can be their quarterback again in 2020. However, they could also added $19.1m in space if they decided to move on from Newton. The problem is that they would then need to replace him, which would mean either rolling with Will Grier, a rookie, or turning to a free agent QB.
Outside of Newton, the only other option that could open up a significant amount of space would be moving on from defensive tackle Dontari Poe ($9.8m), who has a club option. There are other ways they can open up small chunks of space, including moving on from Right Guard Trai Turner ($3.3m), safety Eric Reid ($3m), wide receiver Jarius Wright ($3m – club option), and running back Mike Davis ($3m). Of those four options, the one I fully expect to be safe is Reid, as he would carry a dead cap hit of over $5m. However, the other three could all be cut candidates if the Panthers need to open up close to $10m in cap space quickly.
Impending Free Agents
When you start looking at their upcoming free agents the cap space begins to look smaller and smaller. Greg Olsen is surely on his way out of the door and likely heading towards the broadcasting booth, especially given his injury history and somewhat reducing role in the offense even when healthy.
Their other main questions when it comes to free agents lie on their defense. Gerald McCoy, Mario Addison and Bruce Irvin are a talented group of front seven players and any defense losing that group will look significantly worse. Keeping them will not be cheap, but neither will it be easy to replace them. There are going to be some extremely difficult conversations to be had in Carolina in the coming months.
Major Need: Secondary
Naturally their top need would be quarterback if Newton walks or is traded. However, if they retain Newton then attentions should turn to the back end of their defense. Tre Boston is set to be a free agent and their corners play over the last few seasons has been severely lacking. They need to improve the talent on the back end of their defense or they are going to struggle to turn this team into a contender in the near future.
Major Need: Defensive Line
I highlighted the three defensive lineman set to leave and if the Panthers do not keep them then finding adequate replacements has to be a priority. With question marks expected to remain around the offense in 2020, a strong defense is the way the Panthers can keep games close and put pressure on opponents.
Head of NFL Content
Image credit: FTW – USA Today