Once again it's that time of year, there's no football on tv, no free agency, no draft and very little to talk about. This is the time of year that brings endless speculation from all walks of life. The "experts" with their theories, fair weather fans with their thoughts and people like me who are absolutely bored to tears at this point in the season.
It's tough sitting here scanning all the sports websites and not finding anything about my team. What's more, there is very little about any team. We are left to ponder what's to come in the next two months. March brings the free agent market to life and April boasts the draft, but February is relegated to hosting a meaningless and often boring Pro-Bowl game. In a desperate attempt to satisfy my football appetite I've taken to analyzing mock drafts and shooting down ridiculous FA rumors. The salary caps brings it's own conversation as some teams, including my Panthers, are searching for dollars in the off season. My Panthers also have a reputation for being quite tight lipped and give us fans very little to hold on to. The NFL needs to give us something to cling to in this dreaded month of inactivity.
For hoots and giggles I'll give my thoughts on what I think the Panthers should do this off season to return them to their Super Bowl potential. The Panthers need to cut some fat in order to 1) get under the cap and 2) be able to afford some much needed FA signings. Restructuring Smith and Peppers is a must for two reasons. Peppers is due a big bonus for making three consecutive Pro Bowl appearances, we should us this opportunity to soften the blow that brings as well as tie him up for perhaps the duration of his career. Steve Smith is underpaid and it's rather obvious what he means to this team an it's success. He needs to be extended and quick, for a long time. Mike Minter, FS, needs to be restructured if he wants to remains a Panther, his sudden aging makes him a liability at the FS spot and his salary commands a stud like performance. I would like to see Minter restructured and moved back to the SS position. He's always been a hard hitting, sure tackler who got burned too often this year in coverage. Ken Lucas should be restructured as well as Deshaun Foster, though I doubt either will happen.
Mike Rucker suffered a season ending knee injury that could very well keep him from returning to the club in '07. He's a big loss in the leadership department, but he showed signs of aging and the injury won't help him any either. I see Rucker as being our most significant cap casualty of the off season.
Dan Morgan. It's a sticky situation with Dan who was lost in the first game of the season against Atlanta to another concussion. Dan is one of the best LB's in the game....when healthy, but how often is that? If we release him we suffer a huge cap hit, no one would trade for an often injuried MLB with his salary and restructuring seems unlikely with Drew Rosenhaus as his agent. General Manager, Marty Hurney, will no doubt try to get something done, but I wouldn't be too suprised to see our training staff not clear him to play and force him into medical retirement. As I said, it's a sticky situation and something I'll keep my eye on.
With the restructures and changes listed above I would like to see the Panthers draft the highest rated safety available at the 14th pick. Either Landry, Nelson or Griffin will be available when our turn rolls around. One of these guys starting at FS with Minter at the SS should give us the top notch secondary we're looking for. In the second round I want to see us take the top rated MLB to groom for next year. I can't justify starting a rookie MLB this year with the inexperience we currently have at the OLB spots, which will likely be a first year (James Anderson) and a second year starter (Thomas Davis). I see us resigning Chris Draft this off season to start at MLB with the rookie as the primary back up. With a younger, faster, healty LB corps I feel that Carolina could easily boast one of the top 5 defenses in the league.
My concerns on offense are o-line health, the return of Keyshawn Johnson and DeShaun Foster. I'd like to see Kerry Colbert released, but with Jeff Davidson, the new OC, I expect Colbert to return for a 4th year. In my dream world we would sign a veteran tackle in free agency and move Travell Wharton back to right guard, his natural position. A change in offensive philosophy is just what the Dr ordered after suffering through another season of Dan Henning's offense. I look for a much more balanced and focused offense this year. As a result, look for Jake Delhomme to make his second appearance at the Pro-Bowl in February of 2008.
Outside of that my only other concern is special teams. We should use our third round pick to aquire a return specialist because we soarly need it. I'm really looking forward to next season, if I can survive this month I think I'll make it.