|Quiet start in free agency reflects team's youth movement|
|Written by Steve Reed|
|Saturday, 06 March 2010 16:34|
CHARLOTTE – A year ago, the Carolina Panthers boasted about returning 21 of 22 starters from a team that went 12-4 and won the NFC South championship.|
That’s not the case this season. Not even close.
As it stands now, eight of last year’s 22 opening day starters are gone, including the entire defensive line.
What we saw on Friday was the beginning of a youth movement, a purging of 30-something-year-old players with an eye toward the future. The team parted ways with quarterback Jake Delhomme, defensive tackles Damione Lewis and Maake Kemoeatu and linebackers Na’il Diggs and Landon Johnson and figure to replace them with younger players.
It was the result of self-scouting and a self-realization that they were beginning to get a little old at some positions.
Last year the Panthers sensed, erroneously as it turns out, they were close to a Super Bowl championship.
And why not?
They won 12 games and on the surface the loss to Arizona in the playoffs was probably viewed as a hiccup rather than an indication of things to come. That’s one of the reasons why the Panthers paid defensive end Julius Peppers $16.7 million to stick around another year. He’s a playmaker and they wanted to keep their playmakers. They didn’t want to upset the chemistry.
Of course, the philosophy backfired.
It turns out the Panthers should have replaced some of those 21 starters. They finished the season 8-8 and, quite frankly, were lucky to finish .500.
This year, they realize they’re not on the Super Bowl doorstep.
They’re down the down the sidewalk, around the corner, up the road and over the creek and through the woods.
They’re nowhere near Dallas, home of next year’s Super Bowl.
Credit the Panthers for at least recognizing that, and recognizing they need to change things up after last year’s early season collapse. They need to get younger and get the players they invested precious draft picks in more playing time. They need to reload.
“The common theme around it is, as I alluded to last week, we have some young players who have shown the potential and the ability to step up and fill those spots,” general manager Marty Hurney said of the decision to cut five players, four of whom were on the wrong side of 30.
That is why you haven’t seen the Panthers fire off the blocks in free agency. They haven’t signed any players, and, to my knowledge, haven’t visited with any either.
To be an unrestricted free agent you need six years of NFL experience, which means most of the guys available are, at the very youngest, 28, but in most cases closing in on 30 or already there.
It makes no sense to sign guys like Leonard Little (35) when you’re in the midst of a youth movement. That's why you haven't heard their named linked to players like Kyle Vanden Bosch or Aaron Kampman or Terrell Owens.
Sure, the Panthers may wind up signing a handful of mid-level veteran players -- they're rumored to be interested in Jets' 33-year-old defensive end Marques Douglas -- to fill in down the road on the cheap, but they won’t be making a big splash like the Chicago Bears did on the first day of free agency.
The Panthers will stay the course, continuing to build through the draft and develop their younger players.
They feel like they have many of the replacements already on hand.
Defensively, it’s Tank Tyler and Louis Leonard for Kemoeatu and Lewis at tackle. Everette Brown and Charles Johnson for Peppers and Tyler Brayton at end. And Dan Connor or James Anderson for Diggs at strong side linebacker.
On offense, it’s Matt Moore for Delhomme at quarterback. Mackenzy Bernadeau for Keydrick Vincent at right guard. The only big question is at wide receiver, where they team needs to find a replacement for Muhsin Muhammad since that guy isn’t currently on the roster.
It's not a fancy philosophy.
And it may not be popular with the fan base that’s screaming for them to spend the $20 million they “saved” by not using the franchise tag on Peppers and losing patience with each unrestricted free agent that signs with another team.
But like it or not, that’s Carolina’s philosophy.
They want to get younger.
And the plan is to use their own guys to accomplish that goal.