Reporting Marc James
For the better part of the last decade, the Carolina Panthers have been accused of being quite apathetic and downright “Cheap” when it comes to Free Agency. With several of the cornerstone players on the verge of being lost yet again, General Manager Marty Hurney and team owner Jerry “Big Cat” Richardson have conspicuously stepped up by taking care of the franchise’s priorities.
Priority #1: Re-Sign Charles Johnson. The 25 year-old Defensive End playmaker is coming off a career best 11 and a half sack season. He was considered to be one of the Top Five Free Agents on the open market. Fellow NFC South divisional rival Atlanta Falcons were heavily rumored to covet Johnson. Without any premiere D. Ends like Jared Allen or Dwight Freeney available, Carolina could ill afford to lose Johnson. Result: Mission accomplished. It would be a public relations nightmare for the front office. Johnson was given a very handsome 6 Year/$72 Million Dollar contract with $32 Million guaranteed. GRADE: A
Priority #2: Re-Sign DeAngelo Williams. A rookie quarterback like #1 Overall pick Cam Newton is only as good as his running game and defense (See Ben Roethlisberger’s Rookie season with ’04 Pittsburgh Steelers; See Mark Sanchez’s Rookie season with ’09 New York Jets). Williams had back-to-back 1,00 yard seasons in ’08 & ’09 before suffering a season-ending right foot injury against San Francisco in October last season. Result: Mission accomplished. The 28 year-old was given a 5 Year/$43 Million dollar contract with $21 Million guaranteed. GRADE: A
Priority #3: Acquire Cover Cornerbacks. After last season’s unmitigated disaster, this defense must me able to defend the pass in a division with former Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees, Pro Bowl QB Matt Ryan, & Future Star Josh Freeman. Things got so bad Chris Gamble was benched last season…Richard Marshall will probably no longer be with the team…and Captain Munnerlyn is a midget at 5 foot 7. Nnamdi Asomugha signed with Philadelphia; Jonathan Joseph signed with Houston; Antonio Cromartie re-signed with the Jets. WISH LIST: Carlos Rogers & Lito Shepherd. Result: TBD. GRADE: F to INC.
Priorities #4 & #5: Re-Sign James Anderson & Thomas Davis. Anderson led the team with 130 tackles who should have gotten a free trip to Honolulu for the Pro Bowl…Davis provides the punch & tenacity the defense needs. Results: Mission accomplished. Anderson agreed to a new 5 Year/$22 Million Dollar deal; Davis was also locked up for the next five years. GRADE: A
Priority #6: Steve Smith situation & adding Another Wide Receiver. Smith is apparently no longer a “Disgruntled” employee as he wants to be quote: “A Panther for Life.” Is this just lip service or has 89 really had a change of heart? Plaxico Burress signed with the Jets; Santana Moss sticks the Redskins; Vincent Jackson is staying in San Diego for now; Chad “Ocho-Cinco” Johnson was traded to New England; Santonio Holmes re-signed with the Jets; Randy Moss “RETIRED” until Training Camp is Over. Only potential options are Braylon Edwards & Malcolm Floyd. Result: TBD. GRADE: D- to INC.
Priority #7: Sign a Veteran Quarterback to help Cam Newton. This was Marty Hurney’s toughest decision. Can’t bring in a guy who believes he should start like Vince Young so it’s imperative to look at experienced signal callers who enjoyed previous success, but are willing to accept their role as Newton’s understudy. A guy like Marc Bulger or Trent Edwards would’ve been a nice fit, but new Offensive Coordinator Rob Chudzinski chose to go with former Pro Bowler (2007) Derek Anderson who has struggled the last three season throwing more interceptions (28) than touchdowns (19). Although he knows Chud’s system, this was a rather poor decision because Anderson doesn’t have anything left. Result: Job Failed. GRADE: F
EXTRA CREDIT: Pull off a Pleasantly Surprising Trade which no one expected. This might be Marty Hurney’s crown jewel by acquiring a Pro-Bowl caliber Tight End Greg Olsen from the Bears will receive a third-round pick in the 2012 draft. Olsen agreed to a four-year, $24 million extension with $10 million guaranteed. Since ’09, he ranks sixth in receiving touchdowns by a tight end (18). Result: Mission Accomplished. GRADE: A+
Hurney & new head coach Ron Rivera are certainly not done, but a downtrodden, bitter fan base can not accuse the Panthers of wallowing in free agent apathy like they have for quite some time.