Building a Champion: How the Carolina Panthers Should Rebuild

Mark LeonardCorrespondent IDecember 18, 2009

GLENDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 01:  (L-R) Gary Barnidge #82, A.J. Feeley #11, Jake Delhomme #17 and Matt Moore #3 of the Carolina Panthers walk out onto the field before the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the Universtity of Phoenix Stadium on November 1, 2009 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

At 5-8 the Carolina Panthers have had a rough year. This year it was expected, due to the Panthers having the second toughest schedule in the NFL (the Panthers had the toughest schedule in their conference, the NFC).

However, this year we’ve learned that Carolina has the pieces of a championship caliber team— they have an excellent rushing attack with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart and a good defensive front four with Julius Peppers being the best of the bunch. But, the Carolina Panthers are stuck between the line of contending and the forbidden “r” word: rebuilding. Carolina should address these rebuilding issues by:


1) Getting a new quarterback


It doesn’t matter how they obtain a quarterback. Through a trade (I doubt that they have any good draft picks to trade), free agency, or the NFL Draft. Neither Jake Delhomme nor Matt Moore has proved to be consistent starting quarterbacks. Matt Moore may get another chance to prove himself since Delhomme is hurt.

However, Jake Delhomme won’t get another chance. He hasn’t been the same since he went under the knife before the 2008 season to have Tommy John surgery. Jake Delhomme has become too sporadic to be an NFL starter, even though Panthers’ fans will never forget his better days in the past.


2) Fire Hurney, not Fox


Head Coach John Fox isn’t the man to blame— General Manger Marty Hurney should get the axe, because Hurney traded Carolina’s 2010 first round pick to the San Francisco 49ers so they could move up in the second round of last year’s NFL Draft to get defensive end Everette Brown.

I understand and like why they moved up to get Brown, but Carolina has struggled this year and that first round pick they traded could possibly be a top ten pick during next year’s draft. On the other hand, during the 2008 season there had been signs that Jake Delhomme was declining, but Hurney ignored and imprudently gave Delhomme a contract extension during the offseason.

I mean why would you risk that much money when there’s uncertainty if he can still play at a high level? Then when Jake Delhomme started struggling, John Fox was left out to dry. He didn’t want to play musical chairs with his quarterbacks like the team did in 2007, which killed the offense’s chemistry and divided the locker room.

So Fox decided to stick with Delhomme even though he continued to struggle and fans and media have been asking for his resignation. He shouldn’t be fired. Who made the team competitive again, who has guided Carolina to the playoffs, who led the Panthers to Super Bowl XXXVIII, who has the best coach record in team history—the answer is John Fox. He shouldn’t go—he should stay put.


3) Get younger at wide receiver


Carolina needs to address this situation quickly, because Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad aren’t getting any younger. The Panthers don’t want to have a similar fate to the St. Louis Rams, who had an elite group of wide receivers but they didn’t replace their receivers quick enough and are now scrambling to find a decent one.

Carolina will probably have to draft one since Dwayne Jarrett has been a disappointment and there probably won’t be any good receivers in free agency. I doubt that they could engineer a trade for one, due to the lack of draft picks the team has.


4) More depth on the offensive line


This was one of the luxuries that they had last season. Their backups from last year were so good that three of them (Bridges, Hangarter, and Omiyale) left and became starters elsewhere.

The Panthers' offensive line has been dominant in the running game, but they have been at best okay in pass protection. They’ve had to shuffle their line due to injury to Jordan Gross. None of the backups have really challenged any of the starters. They could easily address this in free agency.


5) Keep the defensive line intact


Carolina’s defensive line has played very well this year but this could be a potential problem, because before the 2009 season began Julius Peppers and management entered in a soap opera over where Peppers was going to play next year. He ultimately stayed with the Panthers, but he sure isn’t happy, which has affected his play. He is no longer the consistent player he used to be.

They need to either trade him for a high draft pick or keep him to long-term deal, because he needs something to motivate him.

The Panthers are high on Everette Brown who has made the most of his playing opportunities, but he’s still no Julius Peppers. Finally, Carolina needs to keep Hollis Thomas around, because even at age 35, he has still been a difference maker in Carolina’s run defense. He could still be effective next year if they rotate him properly.


The bottom line


If the Carolina Panthers can complete these tasks they could easily see themselves back in the NFC Championship Game or even Super Bowl XLV in Arlington, Texas next year. The Panthers should have an easier schedule next year due to them probably finishing third in the NFC South.

But, the bottom line is this team has to play better, which they are certainly capable of doing. Hopeful they’ll have a better season next year than they have had this year.