1. What is Cam Newton’s status as he heads into the final year of his contract? Is there any chance he is not the team’s starting quarterback in 2020?
That’s the million dollar question. His status is completely up in the air right now for several reasons, and the biggest reason is his health. The Panthers will work him out in March to see where he is in his recovery and make a decision from there. At least, that’s what they’re saying out loud. With a new head coach and new offensive philosophy expected to come with it, there’s a chance that Newton is traded for draft picks to help build the roster to Matt Rhule’s liking.
2. The Panthers allowed the second-most sacks, but Christian McCaffrey ran for the third-most yards before contact per rush attempt among qualified RBs. How would you summarize the offensive line’s role in those rankings? Is the unit more of a strength or weakness, and how will it change over the coming months?
I’ll start off by saying that the Panthers’ offensive line is bad. They’re better at run blocking than pass blocking, but it also helps that McCaffrey is so good at making people miss and getting into space. While the offensive line struggles to protect the quarterback, the problem was exacerbated in 2019 after Cam Newton went down and they had to play two young quarterbacks who weren’t used to dealing with pressure.
One positive thing regarding the future is that the Panthers used two rookies at left tackle in 2019, and a year of experience should help them adjust to the speed of the NFL. Center Matt Paradis was also recovering from an injury he suffered in 2018 and adjusting to a new team, so I think he’ll be better going forward as well. Hopefully that means 2020 will be better than 2019 was, and to be honest it can’t really get much worse so I’m looking forward to seeing what happens.
3. Carolina’s run defense was incredibly atrocious throughout the 2019 season. What were the primary reasons that the Panthers had such a hard time stopping the run? What moves will/should be made to fix this facet of the defense?
The scheme had a lot to do with it (the Panthers switched from a 4-3 base to a 3-4 base in 2019) but one of the biggest issues was losing Kawann Short to injury. He’s expected to return in 2020, and that should help the run defense. Again, it can’t get much worse than it was in 2019.
4. James Bradberry is set to hit the market after four seasons as a starter with the Panthers. How would you describe his performance level in Carolina, and do you see him returning?
Bradberry gets a raw deal because he has to go up against Julio Jones, Mike Evans and Michael Thomas two times every year, but overall he’s been a good corner and if both sides can agree to a fair market value contract, I’d love to see him stay in Carolina. I think there’s a good chance the Panthers use the franchise tag on him to at least keep him around for 2020 and give them more time to come to an agreement on a long term deal.
5. I must say, as a Jets fan, I’m jealous of the Matt Rhule hiring. I was pulling for the team to hire him in 2019. To start off, what led to the team parting ways with Ron Rivera in-season? Following that, what was the hiring process like for Carolina, and how did their search eventually lead to Rhule?
I’ll start off by saying that Ron Rivera is a good coach and a great person, but it was simply time for both sides to part ways. In my opinion, Rivera was fired in-season because David Tepper wanted to make a statement that losing is not acceptable, and he felt that parting ways with Rivera was a good way to make that statement. The Panthers ended both 2018 and 2019 on long losing streaks (lost 7 of 8 in 2018 and 8 straight in 2019), so it was just time for a new voice in the locker room. I think Rivera will do well in Washington, and I genuinely wish him well (except when he faces the Panthers, of course).
Tepper said that he wanted to find a head coach that was into analytics and had a fresh outlook on how the game is supposed to be played, and Rhule was on his short list of candidates. They interviewed a few people before making the trip to Rhule’s house in Texas, and Rhule’s interview did so well that he had a job offer before he was able to interview with anyone else.
6. If you could add one offensive and one defensive player from any point in Jets history to the current iteration of the Panthers, who would you choose?
This is a tough question. My instant reaction answer would be Curtis Martin and Darrelle Revis, but having McCaffrey on the roster means I don’t need to take Martin. If the Panthers could make a two back system with McCaffrey and Martin work it would be nearly unstoppable, but I think I’m going to fix an actual need and take an offensive lineman. The Panthers need to protect the quarterback better than they did in 2019, so give me D’Brickashaw Ferguson in his prime. On defense I’ll stick with Revis, because he’ll either be an upgrade to James Bradberry or join him to make one of the best secondaries in the NFC.