The 2021 season did not end as well as it started for the Carolina Panthers finishing with a 5-12 record and in dead last of the NFC South division. I used the last week or so to reflect on this past season and what three things really stood out. Let's not waste any more time, let's jump right in to it.
Sam Darnold is what he is...a backup
Through the first three games of the season, I thought there was a chance that I would be wrong about Sam Darnold working out. Then, the Cowboys game happened and he fell back into what we all know him to be - a turnover prone quarterback. Look, I get the thinking from Rhule and the front office that he is still a young quarterback that is "developing", but when you're four years into the NFL and haven't progressed, that should say enough. Now, he hasn't had the greatest offensive line play whether it be in New York or Carolina, but even when he is protected, he puts the ball in harms way too often and at times, holds on to the ball which results in a sack. Regardless of whether he is the starter in 2022 or not, I seriously doubt that he will not be a part of this roster in 2023 and beyond.
This team is an offensive line and quarterback away
As I just mentioned, Sam Darnold is not the answer. Then again, it's going to be hard to evaluate that position moving forward without having a formidable offensive line. Aside from right tackle Taylor Moton and rookie Brady Christensen (wherever they decide to put him), the Panthers need to blow up the offensive line, including the depth/rotational players. Trent Scott, Dennis Daley, John Miller, Michael Jordan, Pat Elflein, Matt Paradis, and Cameron Erving, probably all need to go. As a result of having a 5-12 record, the Panthers will have the 6th pick in this year's NFL Draft.
This is a deep offensive line class, particularly at offensive tackle which is where the Panthers have struggled to have consistency over the last decade. If they can finally land their left tackle of the next 10 years and sign a couple of veterans on the interior of the line, things should be in a much better place up front.
As hard as it may be to believe, the Panthers are a lot closer to being a competitive team in the NFC. They have a very young, yet solid defense and elite playmakers at running back and receiver. The pieces are in place to take the next step, now it just comes down to the o-line and quarterback. Should Carolina correctly address those two areas, they will start to see progress being made in the win column.
Tepper must limit Rhule's power
Coaches should coach and general managers should handle the personnel decisions. Over the first two years, Matt Rhule has worn both hats, making essentially all the calls. I mean, hell, Tepper let a first-year head coach be a part of the GM hiring process. I understand the goal is for Fitterer and Rhule to work collaboratively but it seems to be one-sided. Rhule handles the personnel decisions while Fitterer and Samir Suleiman maintain the salary cap and figure out what it would take to make certain deals happen.
Bill O'Brien is the perfect example of this. The Texans allowed him to handle all personnel decisions and filled the role of GM along with being the head coach. He wasn't a bad coach but he made some downright awful trades/other moves that led to his firing. If Rhule can hand over that responsibility to Fitterer and just focus on coaching up the 53 plus men on the roster, I think you would see a major improvement both on the field and in the evaluation process.
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