Have you ever heard the idiom “Fall from grace”? Well if you’ve never heard of it or just don’t know what it means, take a look at the Carolina Panthers in 2015 then 2016, and that’ll help you understand.
Highs and Lows for the Panthers
At 3:30 pm PT on February 3, 2016, the Carolina Panthers were on top of the world. The Panthers were fresh off a 15-1 regular season, then blew out two opponents in the NFC Playoffs to reach the franchises’ second career Super Bowl. At about 10:30 pm PT that same day, Carolina was feeling down after losing 24-10 to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50. The team was still young and had a bright future. With key players like Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, and Josh Norman, this franchise was in good hands. Then the offseason happened.
On March 1, 2016, Josh Norman, one of the best cornerbacks that year, was franchise tagged by Carolina meaning he would be there for at least one more season. Six weeks later the Panthers rescinded the tag making him an unrestricted free agent. He was quickly signed by the Washington Redskins, and Carolina was left with a big hole in the secondary.
The 2016 season proved to the Panthers that in order to stay on top, you have to keep your nucleus together. Carolina went 6-10 and failed to make the playoffs that season.
This team is still young and can get back to where they were in 2015 with these three easy fixes.
Upgrade the Cornerback Position
As stated earlier, Josh Norman wasn’t in the secondary for Carolina in 2016. At one point, the Panthers had James Bradberry and Daryl Worley as their starting cornerbacks. These two were rookies. The stats were exactly what you’d expect them to be as well.
In 2015, the Panthers had a top five defense. They ranked fourth against the run and 11th against the pass. In 2016, the run defense was still dominant ranking 6th in the league, but the pass defense fell mightily to 26th overall.
An upgrade at the cornerback position would not only help out this struggling defense but possibly put Cam Newton and the offense in better field position. Carolina will have a possible pick of the litter come 2017 Free Agency. Trumaine Johnson and Stephon Gilmore are free agents this offseason. Either of these two will be a significant upgrade for this secondary.
Of course, they can take some guys in the draft, but it’s clear that a veteran presence in this group is needed.
Better Protection for Cam Newton
Over the past three years, Cam Newton has seen his offensive line give up 111 sacks. That boils down to a little over two sacks a game. Cam Newton isn’t your normal quarterback, we know that. Like any other players at his position, Newton will need a time friendly clean pocket to throw in. The Panthers haven’t been able to help him much with that as of late.
They do have Pro Bowlers at the Center and Guard position in Ryan Kalil and Trai Turner. However, the Tackle position is quite average. Everybody knows in order for a QB to be successful, he has to at least have a good Left Tackle to protect his blind side.
The talk of the free agency as far as the tackle position goes will be about Cincinnati Bengals LT, Andrew Whitworth. He will become a free agent, but at 35 years old, teams don’t know how much Whitworth has left. At the same token, a player of Whitworth’s caliber and skill set will bring many things to this team. Outside of his play, he will be a leader in the locker room, a mentor to the young lineman already on the team, and bring a winning attitude from Cincinnati where he made the playoffs six times in eleven years.
A Consistent Running Game
Jonathan Stewart has been doing a decent job in the Panthers backfield, but he’s not going to be the type of back that blows a game open. Over his nine-year career, Stewart has only eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark once.
Durability has been another problem for Stewart. In his last three seasons, Number 28 has missed at least three games each of those years. That might not sound like much, but when you factor in he’s missed 28 games in his career, it starts to add up.
The Cardiac Cats need a back that will be able to take pressure off of Cam Newton. With the 8th pick in this years draft, Carolina may have their selection of two excellent RBs. Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook were two of the best running backs in college last year. Furthermore, these backs were great throughout their entire collegiate career.
If Carolina is able to get either player, this offense could be one of the best in the league.
Carolina has all the talent in the world on both sides of the ball. They are missing some key players at key positions to take them to the next level. If they are able to upgrade these three positions, the NFC South and possibly more could be theirs in 2017.