Making Sense of the Panthers Rebuild On The Fly

Photo: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

What was once known as the nucleus and foundation of the Carolina Panthers will all now be things of the past. Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly, Greg Olsen, Ron Rivera and even Thomas Davis have or will likely part ways with the organization.  

The Panthers downpour began after losing the final eight games of the 2019 season after a 5-3 start. Owner David Tepper has a no-nonsense mentality and will do whatever is in his power to create a winner. It started with separating from Rivera. 

Tepper hired former Baylor and Temple head coach Matt Rhule, who, while being an impressive head coach, only had NFL experience after a brief stint as the offensive line coach of the New York Giants in 2012. Rhule is known to strip rosters down to the studs and model them after his brand of football. While he doesn’t always have the most talented bunch, he believes in the scheme maximizing and squeezing every ounce of ability out of the players within it.

A big adjustment he will have to make is now finding the talent in order to infuse and uplift his system because unlike the college game, the NFL is a star-driven league and personnel is vital when executing at a high level offensively.

Another difficult decision in the hands of Tepper, and now Rhule, was granting permission for Newton to seek a trade elsewhere. 

At the NFL Scouting Combine, Rhule had this to say about the franchise quarterback:

"From my perspective, I'm unbelievably excited to get to work with Cam. Coming from the outside, you kind of know as a fan, but just on a personal note getting to know him, he is a diligent guy. He's working so hard both in Atlanta and in Carolina to get himself healthy. You meet him, he's this massive man, impressive man, and I've really enjoyed getting to know him. I've enjoyed getting to sit down in the cafeteria when he comes by, sit down in my office. I think he's doing a great job. For me, the way he balances being a great father, the way he balances being a great quarterback, and the things he's done in the community are really, really important. I want to make sure I say that. I'm excited to get him healthy. Obviously, that's the number one goal for us. He's doing a great job of doing his part. We have to make sure we're doing our part as we try to get him healthy for the 2020 season."

If trading Newton was the original plan then that should've been the sentiment all along. Instead, now that the music has stopped in the quarterback game of musical chairs, Newton is one of the few left standing. The franchise is now backed into a corner with no leverage and close to being forced to release one of the best players in franchise history.

The Future

The future of the team rests on the shoulders of general manager Marty Hurney, who's had his fair share of hits and misses. There still seems to be mixed emotions about the acceptance of a full-on rebuild. The signing of Teddy Bridgewater and trading Trai Turner for Russell Okung are prime examples of that.

The former 2014 first-round pick is a scapegoat to disguise Carolina’s real future plans. Bridgewater is the type of thrower that shows the Panthers are still trying to compete in the short-term when it's really to smooth things over during a transition year as they prepare to be a bottom dweller. 

The Turner-Okung trade was a head-scratching move as the team seemed to have received less value then what was originally on the table for the 26-year-old guard. Those are the types of moves that Hurney has to utilize in order to lay the foundation of what is seen as a quick fix in order to provide a stable foundation.

The Panthers also made another move Monday with the reported trade of quarterback Kyle Allen to the Washington Redskins for a fifth-round selection. 

As long as it makes sense financially, every player on the roster should be up for sale even Christian McCaffrey. McCaffrey is an incredible talent, but there’s a dwindling value and market for running backs over the past few seasons. Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon and DeVonta Freeman are the latest examples of why paying running backs isn't smart. McCaffrey's value may trump his other counterparts, but if there are no plans to pay him a hefty extension, then why delay the inevitable? Similar to Newton, it would be a tough pill to swallow, but it makes much more sense with the vision that the team already has in place.

Executing the Plan 

Similar to what we're currently seeing with the Miami Dolphins, it's always nice to have the ammo. The execution phase is what really matters and turning the extra draft capital into actual players is the difficult part. The Panthers are slowly inching towards this portion of the plan. Carolina is still hopeful of a deal materializes with Newton and has an expected 2021 compensatory selections from Mario Addison’s deal.

Rhule and Tepper are tasked with working in cohesion to retool a team that was in the Super Bowl five years ago. It will require some gutsy moves and ones that will not always be welcomed. One of the more important parts of the entire transformation is the draft. The Panthers possess the seventh-overall pick and have holes at many positions across the board. They should be doing everything in their power to trade out of the selection with a forward vision towards their original vision.

The only player that realistically should give them pause about not following through with this plan is Clemson hybrid Isaiah Simmons, but even then, could his talents even be exploited with the lack of personnel surrounding him? 

Carolina should be in full-on trade back mode and continue to stack assets while also adding players that make sense in both the now and who fit as a piece to its blueprint. 

Regardless of the direction that the Panthers opt to take, the messages continue to be mixed. Some signal a clear path to kick the competitiveness can down the road to 2021 or even 2022. Either way, they need to decide which plan they desire and stick to it. Otherwise, they will be stuck staring at the face of mediocrity with a roster jammed in neutral with no clear direction.

Written By:

Jordan Reid

Senior NFL Draft Analyst

Senior NFL Draft Analyst for The Draft Network. Co-Founder of Former QB and Coach at North Carolina Central Univ.