S Kevin Kaesviharn.
DE Everette Brown, S/CB Sherrod Martin, DT Corvey Irvin, RB Mike Goodson, FB Tony Fiammetta, G Duke Robinson, CB Captain Munnerlyn.
FB Nick Goings, WR D.J. Hackett, OT Frank Omiyale, G Jeremy Bridges, C Geoff Hangartner, DT Darwin Walker, OLB Donte' Curry, ILB Adam Seward, CB Ken Lucas, KR Mark Jones.
2009 Carolina Panthers Offense:
I hope that one day we'll find out what happened to Jake Delhomme in Carolina's second-round loss to Arizona this past postseason. I've always maintained that Delhomme's son had been kidnapped, and to get his child back, Delhomme had to throw the game. There are other possibilities, however. Kurt Warner may have slipped a roofie into Delhomme's Gatorade before the game. It's also possible that none of Delhomme's receivers understood his Southern twang, and they all consequently ran the wrong routes. Or perhaps Delhomme was abducted and replaced by an alien who sucks at football. The possibilities really are endless.
However, the most probable explanation is that Delhomme simply sucks and is incredibly inconsistent. For example, he was 20-of-28 for 248 yards and two scores versus the Cardinals in Week 8. The next game, he was a horrific 7-of-27 for 72 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions at Oakland. Delhomme was expected to bounce back against the Lions the following Sunday, but struggled once again, going 10-of-19 for 102 yards and a score. Delhomme then responded by going 21-of-35 for 295 yards and a touchdown in a tough road game at Atlanta.
This terrible inconsistency could be the reason why Delhomme murdered Carolina's Super Bowl aspirations by committing six turnovers against the Cardinals in the playoffs. Delhomme, now 34, isn't going to get any better, so one has to wonder what the Panthers front office was thinking when it offered him a 5-year, $42.5 million extension in April.
It looks as though Delhomme will be around for a while. I guess it's a good thing that the Panthers have so many weapons on offense to negate their quarterback's flashes of ineptness.
Steve Smith is one of the top receivers in the league. He just turned 30, but is coming off a 78-catch, 1,421-yard, 6-touchdown campaign. He compiled all of those numbers in just 14 contests because he was suspended for the first two weeks. Across from Smith, Muhsin Muhammad thrived in his first season back from Chicago; he caught 65 balls for 923 yards - both numbers are his personal best since 2004. Meanwhile, Dwayne Jarrett is entering his third season and turning 23 on Sept. 11. He'll be more of a factor in 2009.
Carolina's running game was the reason why the team was able to average 25.9 points per game last year. The Panthers spent the 13th-overall selection in the 2008 NFL Draft on Jonathan Stewart, which may have sparked DeAngelo Williams to put forth the effort that he lacked in his first two NFL seasons. Williams rushed for 1,515 yards and 18 touchdowns on an amazing 5.5 yards-per-carry average. Stewart chipped in with 836 rushing yards and 10 scores on a 4.5 average.
Williams and Stewart were lucky enough to rush behind one of the better offensive lines in the league. In addition to its outstanding run-blocking, the front gave up 20 sacks on the year. The line was really able to improve with the addition of first-round pick Jeff Otah. Otah, a force at right tackle, paved the way for Williams and Stewart, and allowed Travelle Wharton to move inside to left guard, right next to left tackle Jordan Gross, one of the league's highest-paid linemen.
Carolina's line has no holes, but unlike last year, it has no depth; both Frank Omiyale and Geoff Hangartner signed elsewhere. The reserve linemen barely have any experience, though rookie guard Duke Robinson has a lot of potential. Unfortunately, if some of the starters go down, Delhomme, Williams and Stewart could be in a bit of trouble.
2009 Carolina Panthers Defense:
The Panthers were able to get to the quarterback and consequently shut down the pass for the most part, but they had one major weakness. They were 26th versus the run, surrendering 4.6 yards per carry. When you consider that Kris Jenkins left for the Jets last spring and the Panthers never found anyone to replace him, you can see why they had so much trouble in that department.
Well, it's been a year now, and Carolina still has no legitimate substitute. The team signed no one this offseason and finally addressed the position in the third round with Corvey Irvin. Maake Kemoeatu is still a force in the middle at 6-5, 345, but things were very difficult for him in 2008 without Jenkins occupying two blockers next to him. Damoine Lewis started next to Kemoeatu, and while he was able to accumulate some sacks, he was a huge liability against the run.
Another weak point on Carolina's defensive is at strongside linebacker. John Fox, for whatever reason, has an infatuation with Na'il Diggs, and will not remove him from the lineup at any cost. Not that he has that much of a choice; reserve Landon Johnson is a marginal player at best. Luckily, the Panthers have Jon Beason, one of the top linebackers in the game, manning the middle. At weakside linebacker, Thomas Davis registered 113 tackles playing behind Julius Peppers and his 14.5 sacks.
Speaking of Peppers, the dynamic defensive end recently signed his one-year tender. While Peppers was out, rookie Everette Brown got all of his reps. With Peppers and Tyler Brayton at right and left end, Brown will be the nickel pass-rusher this season.
Rookie defensive ends tend to struggle in the NFL, but if Brown can be productive as a situational player, it'll increase Carolina's sack total and really help its secondary. In his fifth season, Chris Gamble really thrived and was rewarded with 6-year, $53.5 million contract in November. However, the Panthers don't have much across the field; Ken Lucas was let go, allowing Richard Marshall to step in. Marshall was torched as a nickel corner in 2008, so opposing passers will be targeting him early and often. Second-round rookie Sherrod Martin will be in the mix, but likely won't be a starter until 2010.
While the No. 2 corner position is still in flux, the two safety positions are pretty set. Charles Godfrey started all 16 games as a rookie last year, while Chris Harris thrived in his second season as a Panther.
2009 Carolina Panthers Schedule and Intangibles:
If you're a football bettor, you knew to play every NFC South host in 2008; the teams were inexplicably unstoppable at home, as all but one divisional matchup was won by the host. I used the adverb "inexplicably" because NFC South squads were renown for being brutal at home; the Panthers were a laughable 51-53 as hosts from 1995 to 2007, but were 8-1 in 2008.
The 2008 campaign marked the first time since 2003 that John Kasay failed to hit at least two 50-yarders in a single season. He was 1-of-3 from that distance. On the bright side, he was 28-of-31 overall; his 90.3 kicking percentage was a career-best.
Jason Baker maintained a decent 44.1 punting average. Even better, he dropped a whopping 30 kicks inside the 20.
Thanks to Mark Jones, the Panthers averaged better kickoff and punt return averages than their opponents. Jones signed with the Titans, so it'll be up to third-year wideout Ryne Robinson to take over. Carolina didn't allow a special teams touchdown in 2008.
The Panthers were fortunate to play perennial losers like the Raiders, Lions and Chiefs last year. They're not so lucky now. Their first four games are tough (Eagles, at Falcons, at Cowboys, Redskins), but not as brutal as their last four games (at Patriots, Vikings, at Giants, Saints).
2009 Carolina Panthers Analysis: Up until the playoffs, everything went right for the Panthers last year. Jake Delhomme and Steve Smith stayed healthy for a change; Julius Peppers rebounded off a horrific 2007 campaign; the Panthers were lucky to get a ton of crappy teams on their slate; and there were no major injuries on the offensive line.
Things are seldom perfect two years in a row in the NFL. Something will go wrong. Maybe Smith gets hurt. Perhaps a linemen or two go down, and the depth up front is exposed. What if the losses begin accumulating as the result of a brutal schedule? And what if Delhomme's son gets kidnapped again?
There's barely any margin for error in the NFC South, as the Saints improved their defense and Matt Ryan has another year of experience under his belt. Carolina could still win the division, even with a 9-7 record, but I don't think there's any question that the team will face more adversity than it did in 2008.
I hate trading away future first-round picks. Doing this worked out really well for the Panthers last year, but if you keep pulling this stunt, you're really going to get burnt eventually. What if Jake Delhomme gets hurt and Carolina misses out on a top-10 selection?
Everette Brown was a steal at No. 43. He was easily a first-round prospect, and there was speculation that he could go as high as No. 11 to Buffalo.
The Panthers walked away with other great values, including Sherrod Martin, Corvey Irvin, Duke Robinson and Captain Munnerlyn.
If Carolina didn't trade away its 2010 first-rounder, I'd give them a high grade. But like I said, I'm not in favor of that strategy.
Grade given on 4/27/09: B-
2009 NFL Draft Picks:
43. Everette Brown, DE, Florida State
I was going to give this pick an A because Everette Brown is a talented prospect who fills a position of need. He was a projected first-rounder. The problem is Carolina gave up a 2010 first-round selection. I doubt the Panthers are going to be as good as they were last year, so San Francisco may have a high pick next year. (Pick Grade: C)
59. Sherrod Martin, S/CB, Troy
A solid pick. The Panthers needed a corner and this is the right area to take Sherron Martin. (Pick Grade: B)
93. Corvey Irvin, DT, Georgia
This is the right draft range for Corvey Irvin. The Panthers are addressing a position of need with this selection, and Irvin provides good positional value. (Pick Grade: A)
111. Mike Goodson, RB, Texas A&M
How many running backs do you need? I know the Panthers can probably afford to take their best player available, but does Goodson even play in the next two years? (Pick Grade: C)
128. Tony Fiammetta, FB, Syracuse
A fullback in the fourth round? The need is there, but it just seems like a bit too early. (Pick Grade: C)
163. Duke Robinson, G, Oklahoma
This is obviously unbelievable value. Some players tend to fall on Draft Weekend, and Duke Robinson was an unfortunate victim. Good for the Panthers, who needed line depth. (Pick Grade: A)
216. Captain Munnerlyn, CB, South Carolina
Another outstanding value selection for the Panthers. Captain Munnerlyn fills a need as well. (Pick Grade: A)
All of the close victories. All of the decisive blowouts. All of the rushing yardage that DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart compiled. All of the talk about how the Steve Smith fight brought the team together. All of it meant nothing when Jake Delhomme threw five interceptions against the Cardinals to appease his son's kidnappers. One has to wonder how much money those people bet on the Arizona moneyline.
Panthers sign FS Kevin Kaesviharn
Redskins sign WR D.J. Hackett
49ers sign DT Babatunde Oshinowo
Panthers cut DT Babatunde Oshinowo
Panthers re-sign DE Julius Peppers
Redskins sign G Jeremy Bridges
Seahawks sign CB Ken Lucas
49ers acquire a 2010 first-round pick from the Panthers
Panthers re-sign OLB James Anderson
Panthers re-sign S Nate Salley
Colts sign ILB Adam Seward
Panthers cut CB Ken Lucas
Bills sign Geoff Hangartner
Bears sign OT Frank Omiyale
Panthers tender TE Jeff King (2nd round)
Panthers cut WR D.J. Hackett
Panthers cut FB Nick Goings
Panthers cut G Jeremy Bridges
Panthers re-sign OT Jordan Gross
Panthers franchise DE Julius Peppers
Defensive End: The Panthers will likely franchise and trade Julius Peppers away for a pick in the teens. With that selection, they may target someone like Brian Orakpo, Larry English, Michael Johnson or a defensive tackle (Peria Jerry). Either way, Carolina will have to replace Peppers; take away his 14 sacks, and the team had just 23 last year. Re-signed Julius Peppers; drafted Everette Brown
Defensive Tackle: Carolina missed Kris Jenkins' monstrous presence. They'll look at Jerry in the first round or someone like Ziggy Hood in Round 2. Drafted Corvey Irvin
Cornerback: Ken Lucas and Richard Marshall really struggled in 2008. Lucas probably won't even be back with the team. The Panthers can't count on Marshall as a starter. They'll have to find someone else in free agency or relatively early in the 2009 NFL Draft. Drafted Sherrod Martin and Captain Munnerlyn
Quarterback: What kind of millionaire quarterback uses string traps and glue on the banister to prevent robbers from stealing things/children from inside his house? Get an alarm system next time, Jake, and then you won't have to throw a playoff game. In all seriousness, Delhomme, 34, is in his contract year. If the Panthers can get a good deal on Josh Freeman or Nate Davis, don't expect them to hesitate.
Wide Receiver: Muhsin Muhammad played pretty well in 2008, catching 65 passes for 923 yards and five touchdowns. However, he turns 36 in May. The Panthers need a young receiver to take over for Muhammad in 2010, and that guy clearly isn't the fragile D.J. Hackett. Rumor has it that the Panthers ordered Hackett to stay inside when there was bad weather, fearing that the wind would tear his ACL.
Offensive Line Depth: The Panthers were fortunate that their offensive line stayed healthy for most of the year. Unfortunately, Keydrick Vincent missed the final three games of the season. Backup Jeremy Bridges, meanwhile, is being charged with assault. Re-signed Jordan Gross; drafted Duke Robinson
2009 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Kevin Kaesviharn, FS, Saints. Age: 33. - Signed with Panthers
Carolina Panthers Free Agents:
Salary Cap (As of Feb. 10): $20 million
Julius Peppers, DE. Age: 29. Re-signed with Panthers (1 year, $16.683 million)
Julius Peppers probably won't be back with the Panthers next year; Carolina will likely franchise and trade him. Peppers, who had 15 sacks in 2008, said that he would prefer to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense.
Jordan Gross, OT. Age: 29. Re-signed with Panthers (6 years, $60 million; $35 million guaranteed)
Jordan Gross surrendered three sacks in 2008, qualifying for the Pro Bowl. The Panthers will have to decide between franchising Gross or Julius Peppers, so there's a good chance the former hits the market.
Jeff King (RFA), TE. Age: 26. Tendered by Panthers (2nd round)
A solid blocker, but not much of a threat as a receiver.
Geoff Hangartner, C. Age: 27. Signed with Bills
One of the top backup centers in the NFL. Geoff Hangartner played very well in relief of an injured Ryan Kalil this season.
Ken Lucas, CB. Age: 30. Signed with Seahawks
Ken Lucas struggled last year. He definitely shouldn't be a starter, but he'd make for a very solid nickel.
Frank Omiyale, OT. Age: 26. - Signed with Bears (4 years, $14 million)
Adam Seward, ILB. Age: 27. - Signed with Colts (1 year)
Nate Salley (ERFA), S. Age: 25. - Re-signed with Panthers (1 year, $1.01 million)
James Anderson (RFA), OLB. Age: 25. - Re-signed with Panthers (1 year, $1.01 million)
Donte' Curry, OLB. Age: 31.
D.J. Hackett, WR. Age: 28. - Signed with Redskins
Nick Goings, FB. Age: 31.
Darwin Walker, DT. Age: 32.
Jeremy Bridges, G. Age: 29. - Signed with Redskins
Lester Ricard, QB. Age: 25.
Babatune Oshinowo, DT. Age: 26. - Signed with 49ers
Divisional Rival History: Atlanta Falcons: Though the visitor claimed the past five going into the 2008 season, both home teams were victorious last year. New Orleans Saints: The road team has mysteriously won nine of the previous 11 matchups. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Domination. Carolina has claimed nine of the past 12 meetings, including an epic debaclation of Tampa Bay on Monday Night Football in early December.
Features to be Posted This Offseason:
2009 NFL Draft Grades (Pick-by-Pick NFL Draft Grades as well - Live on Draft Day!)