From pedestal to pillory. If the 2021 season has been a roller coaster for Carolina Panthers fans, it has also marked a very clear shift in the overall consideration given to head coach Matt Rhule. Between its calamitous management of the attack, symbolized by the dismissal of offensive coordinator Joe Brady, the relaxation of the team in the home stretch (7 losses to end the regular season) and its procrastination in the press conference, in particular on the situation at the post of quarterback, the former strong man of Baylor has clearly exposed the limits in the handling of a professional workforce. Confirmed by General Manager Scott Fitterer in January, Rhule knows that he is playing his last joker in Charlotte and will have to try everything in an NFC South shaken by surprise movements during this offseason and open to possible upheavals.
- DJ Moore (WR)
- Shaq Thompson (LB)
- Taylor Moton (OT)
This is one of the paradoxes of this formation of Felines. If the defense has been very good as a whole this year, it is undoubtedly in attack that individuals seem to stand out. We no longer really present Taylor Moton, one of the best tackles in the league, but still missed an opportunity to play the Pro Bowl. His big problem is undoubtedly the fact of only being able to play on the right, but without him, the Panthers offensive line would have conceded much more than the 52 sacks granted in 2021. At the end of the contract at the end of the 2022 season , DJ Moore granted himself the right to claim an extension to his contract this summer. The former Maryland star has compiled a third straight year for more than 1,000 yards and is one of the few future bases on offensive skill players. In defense, special mention to Shaq Thompson, now fully in control of the second curtain, and by lining up five matches with at least ten tackles on the clock in 2021. Admittedly, between them, they will represent almost 50 million on the salary cap in 2022 , but the Panthers can tell themselves that this money is bearing fruit … Other names can of course be cited in defense, with Brian Burns on the first curtain and Jeremy Chinn in the backfield, but we can say that the duo can cross yet another level and take a more important place in the team, in the months to come.
- Sam Darnold
- AJ Bouye
By lifting the optional fifth year of Sam Darnold’s contract (due to his first-round draft status), the Carolina Panthers have put themselves in a nice trap, with an already iNFLexible salary cap. 2022 will therefore be the last year of the quarterback’s contract in the South-East of the United States, but a lease at 18 million in total! Apart from via a trade, it is difficult to find a viable solution to get rid of the big loot of the person concerned, who could just as well supervise a young draftee if the opportunity arises. For AJ Bouye, the situation at the cornerback position is also important. Not often physically fit in 2021, the former Jaguar was already announced in departure rumors via exchange in October and his cut would save his franchise 2 million. But with the end of Donte Jackson and Stephon Gilmore’s contracts, and the countless needs of the Panthers, especially in attack, can Matt Rhule and Scott Fitterer afford to let a veteran go? Headaches can start…
The summer man
It’s not the most original choice there is… But more than any other, this year promises to be pivotal for Christian McCaffrey. Called to become the offensive keystone, at the end of a stratospheric 2019 and the departure of star quarterback Cam Newton, “CMC” will have participated in only ten small meetings over the last two seasons, for a record of 1 169 yards and 8 touchdowns accumulated over this period. His chronic fragility ended up putting him up against the wall, like his head coach, and if the former Stanford player is not traded during the offseason, he too will have a final joker in 2022 in an attack now led by coordinator Ben McAdoo (former head coach of the Giants) and who should no longer use him as a main option. With a 14 million contract in 2022, the versatile running back must stay in shape and bounce back, otherwise he will live out his very last months near Bank of America Stadium…
The main free agents
- Haason Reddick (LB)
- Donte Jackson (CB)
- Stephon Gilmore (BC)
- DaQuan Jones (DL)
- Matt Paradis (C)
Others : Cam Newton (QB), Ian Thomas (TE), John Miller (G), Marquis Haynes (DE), Frankie Luvu (LB), Jermaine Carter (LB), Sean Chandler (S), Juston Burris (DB).
Best sackeur of his team in 2021 (11 sacks) and former colt of Rhule at Temple, Haason Reddick is already coming to the end of his one-season contract. If a return is hoped for internally, Carolina will not be able to afford to get into a financial battle, unless she tags it to save time. Within the backfield, the franchise will not be able to afford to re-sign and Jackson and Gilmore. If the latter retains his local attachment and his ability to be a playmaker, the former LSU player undoubtedly offers greater longevity. To finish with the defense, it would not be surprising to see soldiers Frankie Luvu and Sean Chandler return. On the other hand, DaQuan Jones may not be extended at all costs.
Offensively, the cases of conscience will be much fewer. Cam Newton has completed his troubleshooting freelance, John Miller is not really essential and Matt Paradis seems to have given way to Pat Elflein full center. Main gray area? The possible return of Ian Thomas as tight end. A decent profile in terms of blocking, but whose effectiveness in the zone of truth (4 touchdowns in 4 years and 90 receptions) can push the franchise to look elsewhere to support the young Tommy Tremble.
Top 5 Needs
- offensive line
- Running back
If the end of the contract leads to questions about the positions of linebacker and safety, the site is indeed in attack. Since taking over the Panthers in 2018, owner David Tepper has never been able to find the dream quarterback franchise, and this offseason must focus on this objective. Once the profile has been identified, the idea is of course to surround it as well as possible, whether on the line (especially on the blind side) or within the backfield itself, as mentioned above, to make Charlotte’s game much less predictable.
Deshaun Watson (QB)
His sporting situation is probably not Deshaun Watson’s priority at the moment. But in the event of an outcome allowing him to push back the grounds next season, the Texans quarterback has a ready-made way out … Admittedly, the question of the salary margin still arises for Carolina, but between the implicit confessions of the GM of Houston, Nick Caserio, as for the probable departure of his protege, and the recent landing of Brian Flores in Miami, a base long imagined for Watson, the coup can be attempted during the offseason. The recent choices of Matt Rhule, within the offensive staff, leave little doubt. Because apart from Sean Ryan, former coach of the Houston quarterbacks, and arrived in the luggage of Rhule to occupy the same position, the Panthers have long eyed Tim Kelly to occupy the position of offensive coordinator. Kelly, Watson’s former coordinator, eventually moved to Tennessee, but he’s not sure that will change the NFC South residents’ determination to get on a trade. Three-time Pro Bowler, the former Clemson star remains on a 2020 fiscal year with 4,823 yards, 33 touchdowns and 7 passing interceptions.
The new blood
Ikem Ekwonu (OT)
Of course, this choice will depend a lot on the direction taken at the position of quarterback during the free agency. If no quarterback is recruited by then, the first round will be nothing surprising. In the scenario discussed above, protecting the backfield should be the top priority. By selecting Jaycee Horn in the first round of the 2021 draft, Carolina not only snubbed the quarterback class but also saw fit to pick up a developing tackle much later. Brady Christensen, third round, was not necessarily unworthy but waded into the ambient doldrums, navigating between almost all the positions of the offensive line. If Matt Rhule decides to put him back in guard, the choice of the best player available as blindside tackle is worth it with the sixth pick. To get hold of Ikem Ekwonu? The story would be beautiful, for this native of Charlotte, who has been the beautiful players of the local NC State program since 2019. A real colossus, not unlike in stature Mekhi Becton, he revealed himself as an athlete incredible, with interesting mobility on the left side and a formidable center of gravity so as not to bend on the pro pass. His performance against Clemson’s pass rush is also a model of its kind… In another profile, Scott Fitterer could also squint on Charles Cross, from Mississippi State, whose first step and better vertical mobility make him more effective on the zone run block, more often used by felines in 2021.
Other possible choices: Kenny Pickett (QB), Charles Cross (OT), Kenyon Green (G), Tyler Allgeier (RB), Leo Chenal (LB)