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Friday, February 28, 2014

Cutting Steve Smith Isn't a Big Deal

These fans certainly don’t think so.  

Reactions to Panther GM Dave Gettleman and head coach Ron Rivera’s recent comments concerning Smith’s future in Carolina have ranged from dismay and disbelief to rage.  Whether it has been downright refusal or vicious backlash, fans clearly view Smith as sacred in Carolina--hallowed ground Rivera and Gettleman haven’t earned the right to trounce!

So how could the potential of cutting Steve Smith not be a big deal?  Easy, it’s not going to happen, nor did Gettleman or Rivera suggest it would.

Steve Smith
This may be one of the most poorly reported stories I have seen this year. Verging on irresponsible link baiting, big media organizations, such as NBC Sports, NFL Network, and CBS Sports, are taking advantage of standard organizational talking points concerning Carolina’s future at the combine and contorting them into a condemnation of Steve Smith’s future in Charlotte.   What’s made it worse is the that local media has also adopted the “Carpetbagger Controversy” (my term)!

The story got legs on Tuesday when Charlotte radio host,  Keith Larson  unquestioningly endorsed the media hubbub by vaguely asking Smith:

“What is your reaction to the comments of, or the way, that Dave Gettleman, and maybe a little bit Ron Rivera, but especially Dave Gettleman, Panther GM, have been speaking about you and your future as a Panther?”

At this point of the interview, if you hadn’t heard “the comments,” you are about as in the dark about the nature of Gettleman’s statements as you are now reading this article.

Larson encouraged Smith to react to the hubbub, rather than Gettleman’s full comments.  Smith said it “took me by surprise…I don’t really know what to think about it.”  

“I’m going to be honest with you, it’ bugged the hell out of me,” Larson responded, before partially quoting Dave Gettleman’s combine press conference.  He further prodded, “Steve, that is just disrespectful.”  

So, fans are pissed. Larson thinks Gettleman has been disrespectful. Charlotte media claims “it may be the end of the road for one of the franchise’s all-time greats, and Smith thinks “that the team is moving on.”  

How can it not be a big deal?  Gettleman must have suggested strongly that Smith’s future was on the line. The Panthers must be in such a terrible cap situation that cutting one of their best players, and franchise great, may right the ship, right?  Nope, cap positioning has only improved in recent reports and cutting Smith would only save the organization 2-4 million dollars.

How the hell could any of this be happening? Keep calm, there’s really not much suggesting that it is!

Carpetbagger Controversy Born: (What was really said)

In a combine press conference, Gettleman responded to standard organizational roster and combine questions. Gettleman briefly commented on Jordan Gross’s future (this was prior to his retirement announcement), Greg Hardy, Captain Munnerlyn, and his “best player available” draft philosophy.  Wrapping up the presser, one reporter asked “Does the organization still view Steve Smith as a true #1 receiver, and what is the evaluation of Brandon Lafell?”  

It really looked to be a standard Dave Gettleman press conference, handling questions with the typical company lines: “cap challenged,” “our organizational goal is to have sustained success,” and “there isn't a lot going on.”  What appeared to be the typical close to the vest Gettleman address turned into the “Carpetbagger Controversy.”

Media coverage of the “Carpetbagger Controversy” escalated at the combine when Ron Rivera commented on Smith’s future role in the offense in relation to the draft, stating:

"We're going through our process, and Steve is a part of what we're doing going forward," Rivera said. "How big of an impact he's going to have for us, that's going to be determined as we go through the draft process and through free agency. We'll see.

"It's all about the evaluations. We have to look through everything. There's a lot of scenarios that we're putting together as a football team. But Steve's part of who we are, and we'll go from there."

One thing lost in the media coverage was the context of these comments.  Both Gettleman and Rivera’s responses were to questions about their views of Steve Smith as a true #1 receiver and his future offensive role. Additionally, these comments were all in the context of the draft and Carolina’s potential for drafting Smith’s future replacement.  There was really no indication, in either the questions or responses, that Carolina is seriously considering parting ways with Smith.  It would be reaching to even take away that Carolina is even bent on finding Smith’ replacement in the draft.

The Fallout:

Yellow journalism has caused the “Carpetbagger Controversy” to escalate quickly in Carolina.  It’s epidemic.  

Panic has ensued, infiltrating all realms of social media.  Panther Nation has unleashed their fury on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and Youtube.  The problem with all of this is that too many people have been affected by this sensationalism.  Hell, even Steve Smith has given it too much credibility.  

It isn’t outrageous to consider Smith a sort of sensitive guy.  In the beginning it manifested itself character/personality issues.  He admittedly had some regrettable moments early in his career.  As he matured, this sensitivity evolved into passion and energy on the field. It’s what has made him great. He is intense. Whether the hand-fighting and trash talking on the field, blowing dudes up with blocks, punching Ken Lucas in the face, post-game sound bites, or the tough love he occasionally gives fans, stuff gets to Smith.  The frenzy of coverage has understandably shaped Smith’s perception of the matter.  It’s near impossible to not.

Truth of the Matter:

The “Carpetbagger Controversy” has reached near nuclear levels.  Larson, who played an instrumental role in this coverage, was shocked to hear that the Carolina organization hadn’t reached out to Smith about the matter yet.  Gettleman stated at the combine that the Panthers “were being quiet” about the roster, just like every other team preparing for free agency and the draft.  The Yankee will likely remain quiet on this issue still because it is a non-issue.  Making a formal statement marginalizing scandal, Gettleman may believe, only add unfounded credibility to the coverage.  

One thing is clear, Panther Nation loves some Steve Smith.  There has been an outpour of loyalty from Panther fans.  This loyalty has been ferocious at times.  I not overly excited by the “Carpetbagger Controversy,” but I am excited to see Smith’s on the field intensity and importance to the organization shape the character of Panther Nation.  It would impossible for the greatest Carolina Panther to not.

Cat Chronicles

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Combine Special


Tonight @ 10 pm!

Cover32's @TheReid joins the  crew to talk combine performances, forecast draft picks, address free agency, and talk crazy about Steve Smith's potential release and Jordan Gross's retirement.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

10 Cornerbacks the Carolina Panthers are Watching at the 2014 NFL Combine

“Not to call those guys [Carolina] out, but their secondary is probably their weakest link on their defense
                                                                                     --Santonio Holmes          

Holmes caught more flack than footballs for his comments while in Carolina, not because they were disrespectful, but because he was right.  

Crazy talk huh? The #2 overall defense, supported by the #6 pass defense, could only be so weak you would think. The truth though is that Carolina’s secondary played better than they really are in 2013. It’s foolish to expect this caliber of play regularly going into 2014 from a piecemeal squad of war-weary veteran journeymen, thought to be bust and cuts, an undrafted free agent, and a tenacious miniature man. Sorry, the truth hurts.

The secondary is the weak link.  I can’t remember any game where I wasn’t nervous that Carolina’s pass rush may be bottled up, leaving the secondary to fend for themselves. The chance of being torched was all too real.  Remember Seattle. Buffalo. Arizona. New Orleans. Oh and San Francisco?

Fan chatter to this point has mostly harped on signing Greg Hardy to establish potentially one of the best defensive lines ever, getting Cam more protection, and adding a potent wide receiver to the mix.  Fans have seesawed consistently between offensive tackle and wide receiver when speculating about Carolina’s 1st Rd pick.  Speculation concerning Carolina strengthening the secondary in the draft has been sparse.

Here’s a peek at 10 cornerbacks the Panthers will surely have their eyes on at this weekend’s combine.

1st Rd Stunners: Not many fans believe that Carolina will pick a CB at #28 given Gettleman’s professed love for hogmollies and the glaring need for a WR. There’s more depth at offensive tackle and wide receiver than at defensive back, however.  If strengthening the secondary turns out to be Dave Gettleman's top priority, he may have to look to the 1st Rd for a sure impact.

Marcus Roberson, FSU- (6’0, 195 lbs) The Florida cornerback, who was courted by Auburn, chose to stay close to home, playing a significant role in Florida’s resurgence over the past two years. He’s a big, physical corner, who has the tendency to get a bit handsy.  He has quick feet and hip movement.  He isn’t the greatest tackler, and durability will be a concern for the Panthers while evaluating Roberson.  He missed five games in 2013 with knee and foot injuries. The combine will be important for Roberson. There are some minor character concerns, so Roberson will have to interview well and check out well with the doctors. He doesn’t have the fanfare of other corners, but there is a big upside to him if he can stay healthy.

Bradley Roby, OSU (5’11, 192 lbs) Has good size and amazing speed.  Word around Ohio is that Roby once ran a 4.26/40yd and consistently runs 4.3 speed in practice. This is the type of speed can’t be taught and would allow Roby compete with speedy wideouts like Mike Wallace, who torched the Panthers secondary in 2013. He has great ball skills and instincts, and isn’t afraid to jump a route, step up in rush coverage, or layout a big boy. The great news is that Roby has a lot of room to improve, but demonstrates the talent to become a top NFL corner. He had a humbling last year in Ohio that I think will pay dividends in the NFL. Roby has seen how the hype can dissipate quickly.  He has already been introduced to the idea that people’s views of a player’s potential and value hinges only on what they did in the last game.  Expect Roby’s stock to rise after the combine.  His sheer athleticism will impress and #28 may even be a stretch.

2nd Rd Realities: Not many fans believe Gettleman will go after a corner in the 2nd Rd. Cornerback is one of the harder positions to fill at the pro level. Generally, the drop off is distinct from the 1-2 round prospects and round 3-4 players. Often if you are going to grab a corner that will make a difference quickly, it happens by the 2nd round. This may be the factor that forces Gettleman to consider a defensive back ahead of a wide receiver or offensive tackle.

Kyle Fuller, VT (6’0, 194 lbs)- He may just be the hidden gem of the draft.  Fuller is a hard worker, has a solid game, and has been predicted by some to be the #3 overall corner in the draft.  He’s tough, fast, big, and has the chops to make it in the pros.  He isn’t graded as a first round talent, but he has the upside of one. He predicts routes well, plays the ball, and has the speed to keep up downfield. Fuller did have a serious groin tear that ended his senior season early.  He doesn’t always have the best tackling technique, but he is tough and aggressive. Durability will be the concern for NFL GMs evaluating Fuller. His season ending injury may depress his stock enough for the Panthers to make a move in the 2nd Rd.

Louchiez Purifoy, FL (6’0 190)- Here’s a guy that could legitimately be on the board at  #60 who probably shouldn’t.  He has an NFL physique, Bradley Roby like speed, and good football instincts. Purifoy had a standout sophomore season in 2012, registering 51 tackles, 3 INTs, and 5 PDs. His junior year wasn’t as impressive, notching only 27 tackles, 0 INTs, but he did force three fumbles.  His pass breakups also went down zero. Purifoy’s performance is somewhat puzzling and there are some questions surrounding him that GMs will be trying to answer in combine interviews.  Purifoy was suspended a game to start the season after being arrested for marijuana possession. The charges were eventually dropped, so the offense appears rather minor, but it won’t help his draft status in light of diminished production. Purifoy also left a year early under some bewildering circumstances. Some have suggested that both he and Florida were ready to part ways, causing him to enter the draft early, despite a less than stellar junior season.  Purifoy has some real potential and, with 4.37 40yd speed, he will be hard to pass up in the 2nd.  

3rd Rd Reaches: Most fans believe the Panthers will draft an offensive lineman or wide receiver in the 1st. If Carolina does draft a hogmolly first, the likelihood of drafting a corner in the 3rd increases significantly. No matter how deep this receiver class may be, once you get to the 3rd round it becomes exponentially more difficult to land a receiver that can be an immediate contributor. In this case, Carolina will likely look to add a receiver in the 2nd to avoid taking on a developmental offensive prospect in the 3rd. Here are a few guys that could be helpful 3rd round additions if a secondary need has yet to be addressed. .

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Carolina Panthers' 1st Rd Draft Surprise: Allen Robinson, WR

Jaws would drop. Fans would stand shocked as Roger Goodell announced, “at 28th pick the Carolina Panthers draft Allen Robinson, wide receiver from Penn State University.”  What? With a name like Benjamin, Cooks, Landry, Beckham, Jr., or Matthews still on the board and Gettleman’s love of the “hogmolly,” how could the accomplished, but rather unacclaimed pick from Penn jump into the 1st? McShay and Kiper will talk of Robinson’s talent and upside, how they like what they saw from him, but they will also drone endlessly that Robinson could been grabbed mid to late 2nd Rd.  

Ludicrous, right?  I mean the team’s 1st Rd. pick on a guy who would be the #3 option for the season.  Shouldn’t the Panthers look for a more immediate impact player? It just wouldn’t make sense—at first glance that is.  Fans may be stunned if Robinson was picked at #28, but they wouldn’t be disappointed.  

There’s a lot overlooked about Robinson that has prevented him from infiltrating top wide receiver draft boards. Robinson has the characteristics of a star NFL wideout: big, good hands, a good route runner, smart, hardworking, and can jump out the gym. Not to mention, he doesn’t appear to have any diva, so often associated with wideouts.  What is most overlooked about this potential star is his road to the draft.  His football past, or lack thereof, has contributed to draft prognosticators’ skepticism.  Robinson could just leap into the 1st Rd, become the #1 receiving option in Carolina after Smith retires and, in the end, be one the best overall talents of 2014 NFL draft.  

If he is so good and has so much potential, why isn’t everyone talking him up?  I mean his draft stock should be trending up by now.  Outside of Pennsylvania, people just haven’t seen enough of him yet to draw national fanfare.  

Robinson’s Road

Robinson wasn't one of those high school kids that had the big press conference on college signing day.  His high school career didn’t garnered that much attention from big college programs.  He had played more basketball than football, missing a full football season from growing pains.  Yea, growing pains! Robinson grew 6” inches just before his sophomore year gained more than 35lbs before he left St. Mary’s prep.

The three star recruit who wasn’t seen as a starter, let alone a star, recorded only 3 catches for 29 yards his freshman year. Still skinny for his height, Robinson continued to grow both physically and as a player when Bill O'Brien took over the troubled program.  Robinson exploded during his sophomore and junior season in O'Brien’s pro-style offense, “winning back to back Big 10 receiver of the year awards.”  Robinson opted to enter the NFL draft, a year too early according to some, after O'Brien’s departure.  

Reasons Robinson Will Succeed

Work Ethic and Football Intelligence:

Robinson wasn’t ordained a star from the beginning.  He had to work hard to prove his worth to the Nittany Lions after a 3 rec/25 yds freshman year.  Instead of becoming downtrodden, Robinson used this as motivation in the offseason, pushing himself mentally and physically.  Commenting on his determination and improvement, Bill O’Brien stated:

Robinson has a lot of skill, talent, and physical ability.  Nevertheless, it’s his maturity and level-headedness that really makes him a special player.  He has a collected demeanor that seems unshakable and isn’t above putting his head down and working hard to get better.  These characteristics usually differentiate talented prospects from top NFL talents.  Former coach O’Brien, now Houston Texan head coach, praised,

Skill Set and Potential

 The hard work paid off in Robinson’s sophomore season, when he became the best wide receiver season in Penn St. history.  After surpassing names like Bobby Ingram with 77 catches in his sophomore campaign, he shattered his own record by catching 97 balls from a freshman during his junior season. He has great size (6’3, 208), with room to get bigger. He’s a surprisingly good route runner for what was a very short college career.  Oh and did I mention the boy can has great hands and can jump out the gym? I mean look at this catch against Michigan.

Final Assessment

It will come down to Robinson’s 40 yard time at the combine.  Everyone wants to know, does this kid have NFL speed?  There are varying reports on his 40 time.  One Penn St. resource unofficially clocked at 4.43 and CBS has him listed much slower at 4.56.  GMs will be looking at this measurement during the combine. He will only get stronger, more refined, and he has the ups, but is he fast?  Can he be a threat downfield? Few are expecting Robinson to a 4.36, but if he clocks a 4.46, he should be a 1st Rd draft pick!  I would be ecstatic if it were the Panthers who landed him. Robinson has the ability to contribute now, that’s not what excites me most about him.  Robinson has the potential to be great.  He’s got it physically and mentally. I’d love to see it happen in Carolina!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Why Signing Greg Hardy Would be Disastrous for the Carolina Panthers

Release the Kraken! No, really, I mean it. Let him go. I know, it feels weird hearing it.  Hell, it even feels weird saying it--but it’s the truth. Paying Greg Hardy the “crapload” of money he deserves, and will get, would be disastrous for the Carolina Panthers.

To be sure, a lot of Panther fans will hate me for saying this. Those same fans are screaming right now that if Gettleman can make the money happen, ink the damn deal despite the costs. In their minds, signing Hardy would cement the Panthers’ defensive front four among the NFL’s best for many years to come. Locking up the Kraken would create defensive front dominance, but it would also stunt Carolina’s long-term success. 

After notching 26 sacks over the last two seasons, it’s Hardy’s moment and he knows it.  He’s made it clear that he wants what he “deserves” and that 100 million isn't an absurd or “imaginary” figure in his mind.  Sure 100m is the starting negotiating figure that will surely shrink, but you can bet Hardy believes he should get a deal similar to the one that landed his counterpart, Charles Johnson, the nickname “Big Money.” Johnson secured his big payday,  6yr/76m with 32m guaranteed, after registering an 11.5 sack season.  With 11 sacks in 2012 and 15 sacks in 2013, Hardy’s call for “big money” doesn't seem so “imaginary.” 

greg hardy krakenDespite Carolina’s success this season, depth has been the problem over the last decade. There just haven't been enough guys waiting in line to get their shot.  Consistently competitive teams over the last decade have had depth.  Offensive and defensive juggernauts, like the Patriots and the Ravens, never seem to fall off, regardless of who retired, left for free agency, or sustained injury. These teams’ long-term success has not been because of one player, but instead because of the endless stream of guys that step up when their number is called. 

The Panthers are clearly not the football factory that these teams have been. Quite the opposite, Carolina has never had consecutive winning seasons, greatly because they always seem to be dealing with that one insurmountable injury. Whether it was Smitty’s broken leg in the pre-season, Thomas Davis’s knee(s), Gamble’s shoulder, Stewart’s ankle, or Beason’s achilles, weathering the storm has been impossible at times.  These stars’ importance was only exacerbated by the lack of guys that could step up and make an impact when they were down. This season only replayed this saga when Charles Johnson and, later, Steve Smith went down.  Carolina’s defense never regained that same tenaciousness and the offense became anemic without its only stable part.

Dumping 150m in two defensive ends would devastate Carolina’s ability to build depth around the team’s new franchise stars, and there are a lot of them! Carolina has some pieces that we know are going to be great.  Newton, Kuechly, Star, and K-Short aren’t projects--they are great now. Tying up too much money in one position will prevent that from happening.

Those who disagree that paying Hardy what he deserves will stunt Carolina’s developmental potential will point to NFL teams’ ability to cut and run from these big contracts.  “Just cut ‘em” if production falls off in a few years they will say.  Big Money Johnson didn't earn his nickname from the sum of his contract in 2011 though. No, no, he cashed that in with the $32m guaranteed dollars of his contract.  Hardy knows that the guaranteed money is the important figure.  The 100 million sum will be negotiable, but we all know that a “crapload” of dollars will be guaranteed.  

There has been chatter about franchise tagging and then trading the “Kraken” to avoid losing him to free agency entirely. Originally, I didn't think this was much of a possibility because of the 12m tag, plus the draft picks the other team would have to pay up. It’s kind of like flipping a house when you really don’t have the money. It works well in theory, but if you get stuck with the mortgage longer than you hoped, it stretches you mightily thin. Panther fans have started  to weaken my skepticism about the tag and trade as of late, however. Many suggest that Hardy can be franchised and then traded for a mid-round pick. As long as Carolina doesn’t attempt to extort a team for an overly high draft pick, it may not be as impossible as I had first thought. The hard part is finding a team with the money, and the draft picks, to make the deal happen though.

kraken greg hardyGet ready to RELEASE THE KRAKEN Panther fans! There really isn't much choice in the matter.  At this point it’s really about how much it hurts.  At it’s best, Carolina can get a mid round draft pick for him, and at it’s worst, Hardy ends up playing for a team in our division!  That’s the thought that makes me break into cold sweats.  Hearing RELEASE THE KRAKEN from a divisional rival would be terrifying, especially given the state of Carolina’s offensive line.  It’s unlikely this will happen, but NFC South fans are giddy at the thought in the message boards.

Hardy’s recent publicity tour from Hawaii to New Jersey has only fanned the rumor mill fire. At the Pro Bowl, asked Hardy  how he’d like “to play with a guy like Gerald McCoy?”  JoeBucFan pointed out that Hardy didn’t give the standard Carolina company line when he responded:

I love a guy like that, man. He gets off fast. He knows how to get to the quarterback. And he keeps them on the move. For guys like me, that’s a dream.

Hardy has brilliantly played his cards as a free agent this season.  He dominated on the field and also excelled at the Hawgart’s Self-Promotion Academy this season.   Hope that Hardy gets his well deserved money somewhere other than the NFC South--maybe Jacksonville, Oakland, or Minnesota

So Panther fans, hedge your bets  today or with the future.  Release the Kraken today, and bet on a future built around Johnson, Star, K-Short, Kuechly, and Newton, or sign him and pay for it tomorrow.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Sign'em or Sayonara? Carolina Panthers' Offensive Free Agent Review

Show starts tonight at 10 pm! 

The crew plays GM, making the tough calls about whether the Carolina Panthers should say "Sign'em or Sayonara!"