CB: While it seems that we need a CB in this year's draft, can we be sure? Are we giving Norman a real chance? A fifth rounder from a small school who was asked to start day 1. Realistic? Were fellow youngsters Dockery and Thomas that bad? No, they have been solid. Without solid safety support, we have asked a lot of our CBs. Long term, if we improve our front 7 and improve safety play, are these CBs enough? They should only improve, and much of our opinion about CB was formed when Munnerlyn was on the outside. At nickel, he is worth a second contract. (Notice that I did not even mention Gamble--I think he might be a cap casualty when the new GM arrives in a few weeks). Sure, it would be nice to have top players at every position, but who were our CBs when we went to the Super Bowl? I think we add a CB in the draft, but not necessarily on Day 1.
OT: Jordan Gross is 33 and slipping. Still, he is better than 50% of the other LTs in the NFL. They are very hard to find and never hit free agency. Most good ones are found in the top half of the first round. Is Cam worth protecting? We could find a player to develop as a backup for 2013 and have him start when Gross hits the wall (that is how good teams are built), but we have cap issues and most of Gross's salary is not guaranteed. So, do you draft a LT NOW in the first round knowing that it could be a while before you have a shot at a stud LT again? Most Panther fans would scream "No! we have bigger needs!!!" If you are one of them, take a gander at team needs across the league and see how many need a LT. Personally, I think if Taylor Lewan is there when we draft, we take him. LTs are more rare than WRs., DTs, and CBs. Grab the stud LT.
WR: We are so used to seeing 89 grab passes that we forget that he is playing on borrowed time. Most smaller speed WRs are out of the league by age 32. WRs take a bit of time to develop. What is our plan for the future at WR? Is Lafell the best WR we have drafted or signed as a free agent since Smith was DRAFTED? That is scary. Imagine this offense if defenses had to worry about more than Smith and Olsen. This is one area where Marty Hurney failed the Panthers. I do not like the draft's WRs because I think we need a #1, move SS to the slot. There are some complimentary WRs who could have long careers. We need to plan as if Steve Smith will no longer be able to function as a #1 WR. I do not like knowing that this team's offense depends on a 5-9, 34-year old WR. Since this draft is weak at WR, I do not see drafting one for the future this year. That means we need to cut/trade some contracts and make room for a veteran. I want KC's Bowe. He will cost us about $8 mlllion per for 4-5 years.
DT (3 tech): Another position that Marty Hurney chose to ignore. I do not think he ever drafted a good one, and his free agent signings were terrible at DT. They usually take a year or two to develop, which is why countng on rookies is not a great idea. Our best DTs, however, are in their 30s and probably not worth their contracts. I do not expect Ron Edwards back and Dwan is not really known for his prowess as a 3. Besides, when your best DT is a player the Bills cut, you probably have issues. We need to take advantage of the draft here, but I think we have to find a three technique in the first or second round. While everyone is screaming for Hankins from Ohio State (Star will be gone), I think there is more upside later in the draft. Hankins is not an everydown player and has been known to dominate and disappear. His upside is considered limited. I think I would look for a player who can develop with Dwan for a year before taking over. I like what i read about Sharrif Floyd from Florida and Jordan Hill from Penn State. Both have higher upsides and will be available in rounds 2-4. Sure, Hankins offers more in 2013, but Dwan will be here in 2013. Hankins costs us our first rounder. If we use the first rounder on a LT and free $10 million in cap room, we get a cornerstone LT for 10 years and can sign a veteran, elite WR. If we draft Hankins, we are left with an aging, overpaid LT, no true #1 WR and a rotational DT with limited upside.
NT: This position bothers me a bit because Ron Edwards has shown that he is injury prone and his salary goes up a lot in 2013. I do not expect to see him in camp, to be honest. That leaves us with Kearse (a player we cut and brought back) and Fua (a player we should have cut-maybe). Kearse has been decent and Fua is improving at a slow rate, but is improving. DTs take time to develop, so maybe we are OK at NT. I wish I knew more about them.
S: While Marty tried to address this position, I am not sure he succeeded. Martin and Godfrey have been at the bottom of the NFL statistically, and Nakamura is not better. A FS who sees the field and quarterbacks the DBs and a SS who can blitz, tackle in the box, cover, etc. are needed. SAFETY IS A BIGGER NEED THAN CB. While I never understood Godfrey's contract, I really do not understand how he continues to start. Safety is very deep in this draft, so we would be foolish not to get one or two. I am guessing that Godfrey will not be protected any longer and will be released- if we can save what his replacement would make or more. Good News: DJ Campbell is a cerebral S who has looked pretty good. He is always around the ball when he should be--just not making plays yet. Maybe no more than depth, but I like him more than Martn and Nakamura right now.
So, what exactly would I try to do as a GM?
Cuts and Trades
- I would trade Gross to a team like the Bears or the Ravens--a tcontender who will not draft high enough to get a starting LT. I would take a 6th rounder for him. I would create $10 million (estimated) in cap room and draft a top LT in the first round.
- I would trade Beason to a team in need of a star MLB and team leader. A team like the Raiders would gladly part wth a third rounder. Beason is great--my favorite Panther, but is not worth that contract at OLB. I think we would get a third rounder (conditional) for him consideing his injury history, but more importantly, create about $7 million or more in cap room
- Depending on how much I would save according to each contract, I would cut DeAngelo Williams, Charles Godfrey, Chris Gamble. A GM without biases and loyaltes will easily see that these players are underperforming their contracts. I am guessing (rough guess) that I would save at least $10 million in non-guaranteed salary.
- Salaries that will not be re-signed and lesser players who will be cut would total a few million as well.
Free Agent additions
- Sign a top free agent WR, like Greg Jennings or Bowe. Expect to spend about $8 m per year.
- Sign a top G, like Brandon Moore (Jets) or Levitre (Bills). Moore will be cheaper due to his age (32) and since I plan to draft a developmental G, this contract should be short. Expect to spend $5 m over 3-4 years. Since we will have a rookie LT, we should not have a rookie G. I might consider moving Silatolu to RG.
- Re-sign Captain Munnerlyn. He is a good nickel back, nothing more. Estimated cost: $3 million per season over 5 years
- Re-sign Gary Barnidge. His blocking has improved and he is a poor man's Greg Olsen. Estimated cost: $2.0 million per season over 4 years.
- Extend the contract of Greg Hardy. He is young and just becoming a beast. Do not give him a season to drive his price up. He has become part of the new core: Estimated cost: $8.5 million per year over 5 years.
- Taylor Lewan, LT Michigan or Jake Matthews LT, Texas AM. Lewan got better as the year progressed and Matthews would have been a LT if Joeckel was not on his team. We could trade down and draft Eric Fisher, Lane Johnson, Oday Aboushi, or Kyle Long. All are good enough to be average at LT now with upsides to be very good for a long time. (One of the last three should be there when we pick in the second round, if you do not want to trade down).
- Sharrif Floyd, DT Florida. Floyd improved so much this year and is only beginning to fulfill his portential. It was recommended that he stay in school to assure a first round status in 2014, but he wants to develop as a pro. Our situation is perfect for him, allowing him to rotate in with Dwan Edwards as a rookie. Get a 2014 first rounder for a second in 2013. good move.
- (from Beason trade) Tony Jefferson Oklahoma, Eric Reid LSU, Kenny Ladler Vandy, or Robert Lester Alabama-S. Although there are no real elite safeties, there is enough quality in the draft to cast a net and grab a second round talent in the third round.
- Sanders Commings Georgia or Rod Sweeting GTech-CB. Both are big CBs who had relatively unspectacular seasons.Commings is 6-2, 215 and runs a 4.5 40. Sweeting's big issue is ball skills--not a person who intercepts passes much, but that could be scheme. Both have high upsides. Commings is my first choice--a good tackler, could he convert to SS if he does not win a CB job?
- Brandon Bishop S, NC State, or Rashard Hall, S Clemson. Since we need 2 safeties, I thought it would be smart to cast the net again and find another who might fall into the fifth round. Again, Safety is the deepest position in the draft after the first round. Both have upside, good size, and production in college. I also think that both will be raw pros, but either might be better than what we have now.
- Gabe Jackson Miss State, Spencer Long Nebraska, or Blaize FoltzTCU--OG. All 3 are good run blockers with improving pass protection skills. A year or two behind a veteran G would allow this development. Depth at G and competition for Silatolu are needed.
CB and NT are staffed by developing, basically unproven youth, but they have experience.
In 2014, I would probably look at QB depth, S, CB, and DT again. Every year I would draft OL. At some point, we will need to draft a young WR. Still, I think this perspective is how championships are built instead of drafting to fill short-term holes based on immediate needs. Draft based on the market, not your needs and you get the best talent.