The Panthers are 5-7 and are on the cusp of being eliminated from playoff contention. With four of the last fives games against the Bills, Saints, and Buccaneers (twice), Carolina could find themselves picking in top ten of the draft once again. Folks are already clammoring for Matt Rhule to be fired not even two seasons in for doing what we all expected to happen in the first two seasons. This is a rebuild. Yes, you can still be in rebuild mode when you make a trade for Stephon Gilmore who hasn't played since 2019. One veteran corner doesn't move the needle to put this team out of the "rebuilding" category.
Below are three reasons why you should buy stock in the Panthers turning things around sooner than later.
This team is only going to get older/more experienced
The 3-0 start may have lifted the expectations for this Panthers team to a place they weren't ready to live up to. This is the youngest team in the NFL even with the additions of QB Cam Newton and CB Stephon Gilmore. Everyone is losing their minds with the penalties and placing blame on the coaching staff for that issue. When you have one of the youngest teams in the league, you're probably going to be near the top of the league in penalties. There's just no way around it. As this team gets more experience and cleans up technique, the penalties will start to diminish. If this was a veteran team that had this many penalties, then yeah, blame the staff all you want. These guys are still pups.
Enough on the negative stuff. If you look at both sides of the ball and even special teams, the Panthers have several pieces to build around. The defense is going to have to add another defensive tackle and linebacker in the offeseason to take that unit to where they want to be, but the rest of the pieces are in place. Jaycee Horn, Jeremy Chinn in the back end with either Donte Jackson/Stephon Gilmore, Derrick Brown, Brian Burns, and Haason Reddick up front, and Shaq Thompson at linebacker is a pretty good foundation.
The offensive side of the ball is further behind but if they go big-game hunting at quarterback in the offseason and fix the offensive line, the Panthers could become a player in the NFC immediately.
The defense is legit
The last couple of weeks against Washington and Miami don't show how far this defense has come since Matt Rhule took over in 2020. The defense was in shambles when he arrived and after spending two drafts and two offseasons addressing that side of the ball, they have become a top five unit with arguably the best secondary in the NFL.
Carolina will have to make a decision on Donte Jackson and Stephon Gilmore but if they can bring back one of those guys to go with a healthy Jaycee Horn and A.J. Bouye, there won't be any concerns with the pass defense in 2022.
Phil Snow doesn't just have some really good players to build around, he has some superstars. Brian Burns and Haason Reddick are two of the league's best pass rushers/disrupters and if Derrick Brown can become more consistent, the Panthers will have one of the best front sevens to go with an already strong secondary, forming a complete defense.
A franchise quarterback will be found this offseason
Let's face it if this doesn't happen there will be folks losing their jobs including head coach Matt Rhule. They can't afford to swing and miss on three quarterbacks in three years. We all know Sam Darnold is not going to be the answer moving forward but they do have to figure out what to do with him and his $18 million that is owed to him on his fifth-year option. As poorly as Darnold played, I'm not confident that anyone will be interested in trading for him. Even if it means eating up $12-13 million and trading him, the Panthers have to do it.
As far as who that franchise quarterback is going to be? I'm not completely sure. I don't see it coming from the draft since I'm not very high on Kenny Pickett, Matt Corral, or Malik Willis. In my opinion, they're going to have to throw their hat in the ring for someone like Deshaun Watson (assuming the off the field issues are resolved) or maybe even Russell Wilson. Heck, even Jimmy Garoppolo may become available if the 49ers want to hand things over to Trey Lance.
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