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  • Just a few days ago, Panthers head coach Ron Rivera indicated that Shula and Dorsey’s jobs were safe. Now Rivera could be tasked with hiring two coordinators this offseason—something he’s never done before.
By Jonathan Jones
January 09, 2018

The strangest, oddest off-season in the 23-year history of the Carolina Panthers got more complicated Tuesday when the Panthers announced that offensive coordinator Mike Shula and quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey had been fired. This comes one day after head coach Ron Rivera seemingly indictated that their jobs would be safe.

Shula’s departure isn’t shocking. Aside from the magical 15–1 season that ended in a Super Bowl loss to the Broncos, the Panthers’ offense never ranked in the top-half of the league in yards and never ranked in the top-10 in points. Seven years a professional, Cam Newton continues to have problems with his footwork and missing receivers high. And about the Panthers’ planned evolution of Newton into less of a runner ... he rushed more times for more yards in 2017 than any previous season.

From top to bottom, on the field and off, here’s a laundry list of all the potential changes and adjustments the 2018 Panthers could and will have to make in the coming months.

Offense:

  • Will Newton, who’s entering his age-29 season, take fewer hits in 2018—which was the plan in ’17?
  • All-Pro guard Andrew Norwell, who Dave Gettleman found as an undrafted free agent in 2014, will be a free agent set to break the bank. Carolina has already paid left tackle Matt Kalil and guard Trai Turner. Will they have the space to pay two guards big money?
  • Center Ryan Kalil, who was sidelined for 10 games this season with a neck injury, only has one year remaining on an extension signed in 2016. When he signed that extension, he said it would be his last.
  • Can Devin Funchess be the team’s No. 1 receiver? He seemed to be on the upswing after the Panthers traded Kelvin Benjamin at the deadline, but Funchess played with a banged-up shoulder for the last month-plus of the season and didn’t have the same production.
  • Running back Jonathan Stewart saw his role reduced in Shula’s offense with the emergence of Christian McCaffrey. Will the next offensive coordinator continue that trend after Stewart’s worst rushing output since an injury-plagued 2013?

Defense:

  • There is no obvious starting defensive end opposite Mario Addison. Veteran Charles Johnson, who was inactive for the playoff game against the Saints after having the worst season of his career, can be cut without penalty this offseason. And Julius Peppers has indicated he will take some time in the coming months before he decides whether to play in his 17th season.
  • Thirteen-year veteran LB Thomas Davis said Monday he expects a reduced role next season as the Panthers work in three-year linebacker Shaq Thompson. It was a refreshing admission by a proud player that he understands the nature of the game, even if he seemed to be playing at a high level once healthy at the end of the season.
  • The Panthers don’t have stability at the second corner position opposite James Bradberry. A free-agent pickup seems likely there.
  • On top of the aging players mentioned above, safety Mike Adams turns 37 in two months. Carolina desperately needs to get younger on defense.
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Everything else:

  • Rivera is now faced with likely having to hire outside for one, if not both, of the coordinator positions, which is something he’s never done before. When Rob Chudzinski left in 2013, Rivera elevated Shula. He did the same last year with Steve Wilks when Sean McDermott took the Buffalo job, and now Wilks is interviewing with the Giants, Cardinals and Colts.
  • What out-of-work offensive coordinator is going to come to Carolina and be the Cam Whisperer? Norv Turner’s late-career resume doesn’t inspire a great deal of confidence that he’s the answer to bringing more consistency to the Panthers’ offense.
  • Kicker Graham Gano’s contract is up and he’s set to be a free agent after leading the league in field goal percentage this year at 96.67%.

Front office:

  • In case you haven’t heard, the Panthers are up for sale as of Sunday night. Who could buy is anyone’s guess, though a Puff Daddy/Stephen Curry/Colin Kaepernick partnership would help a lot of sportswriters meet their monthly click goals.
  • Jokes aside, no one knows anything until there’s a new owner. It’s business as usual until the new owner tells you you no longer have a job, from the groundscrew to football ops to Rivera himself.
  • (No, the Panthers aren’t moving out of Charlotte. It’s difficult to believe three-quarters of NFL owners would approve a money-making franchise in a thriving southern city with strong local support and a winning product to be uprooted.)
  • For how long is Marty Hurney the interim general manager? After Jerry Richardson fired Gettleman, he turned to a familiar face, but the Panthers did not interview any other candidates for the job. If he’s made the permanent GM, the Panthers will have to reckon with the Rooney Rule. And even if all that works out, to whom does he answer? And for how long?

Welcome to 2018, Carolina.

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