What’s the Plan for the 2020 Carolina Panthers?
Heading into the NFL offseason, it seemed more likely than not that the Carolina Panthers were going to tank this upcoming season. They fired long time coach Ron Rivera midway through last season. The team also released starting quarterback Cam Newton, and traded backup QB Kyle Allen. Star linebacker Luke Kuechly surprisingly retired, which left a void in an already weak defense. The team traded 26 year old Pro Bowl guard Trai Turner for an aging Russell Okung. Carolina then opted to hire Baylor coach Matt Rhule. Rhule received a seven year contract; the type of deal which hints at a rebuild itself. Essentially, the Panthers were making it clear their main goal was to target either Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields in next year’s draft.
Then the offseason continued.
Instead of going into full rebuild mode, Carolina began making moves which would help win games. They signed Saints backup QB Teddy Bridgewater to a three-year, $63 million contract. Bridgewater is a capable starting quarterback, nothing more, nothing less. Bridgewater won’t go out there and win the game by himself (he’s never had more than 14 passing touchdowns in a season). He however, won’t go out there and lose the game either (Bridgewater had nine touchdowns to two interceptions in five starts last season). Teddy Bridgewater can definitely win games with the weapons Carolina has. D.J. Moore had a breakout season last year, posting 1,175 receiving yards and four touchdowns in 15 games. Curtis Samuel is a solid number two receiver as well. He had 627 receiving yards and six touchdowns, along with 130 rushing yards and one touchdown.
The Panthers then opted to add another weapon for their new quarterback, by signing former Jets receiver Robby Anderson to a two-year, $20 million contract. The move is confusing not just because of whether or not Carolina is tanking, but because of Anderson’s skillset. He has never had an 1,000 yard season, and is mainly a deep-threat receiver. That doesn’t really fit with his new QB’s game. Teddy Bridgewater has never been known has a gunslinger. He’s not going to throw it 50 yards downfield like Patrick Mahomes. Instead, Bridgewater prefers to take what the defense gives him to limit any risk. That is going to limit Anderson’s production greatly, as he’s proven to be a one trick pony the majority of his career. The Panthers perhaps would’ve been better off using the money they spent on Anderson elsewhere.
Sticking to the topic of money, enter Christian McCaffery. You can’t discuss the Carolina Panthers without mentioning McCaffery’s name. The All-Pro running back is going to be Bridgewater’s most valuable weapon. He’s also going to be the QB’s most expensive one. This offseason, the Carolina rewarded McCaffrey’s dominance with a new four-year, $64 million deal. This contract makes McCaffrey the highest paid running back in NFL history. While McCaffrey’s 2019 season was special, the move still comes with risk. I thought teams had learned that paying star running backs wasn’t worth it. Examples such as Todd Gurley, Le’Veon Bell, and David Johnson have proven that paying a running back big money ultimately hurts the team. No matter how great McCaffrey has played, Carolina more likely than not should have let his contract finish out, then franchise tagged him.
Moves like passing on Anderson, and not paying McCaffrey would have allowed the Panthers to fix the real issue on their team: the defense. Carolina finished in the bottom-ten of total yards allowed per game, and in the bottom-five of rush yards allowed per game and points allowed per game. While the Panthers did target defense in the draft, Carolina used all seven of their draft picks on defensive players, relying on rookies to perform is a tough way to win games. The Panthers may have been better off using the Anderson/McCaffrey money on a player such as Jadeveon Clowney, or retaining free agent cornerback James Bradberry. Instead Carolina currently has the eighth lowest amount of remaining cap space, and a defense full of rookies.
So where do the Carolina Panthers stand at the moment?
Their offense doesn’t lack weaponry that’s for sure. McCaffrey, Moore, Samuel, and Anderson gives Bridgewater plenty to work with. Carolina’s offense could easily finish in the top ten in many statistical categories. The defense however, is young and unproven. The Panthers could be left losing an offensive shootout on more than one occasion this upcoming season.
The real question is what’s the point of Carolina’s offseason?
The Panthers have the makings of a 6–10 or 7–9 football team. If their goal was to tank for Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields, they didn’t execute. If their goal was to build a playoff team for the upcoming season, they didn’t execute. They instead have an average football team, which would leave the Panthers with a middle of the road draft pick. A spot which many NFL teams and fans can’t stand to be.