As the NFL offseason ticks along, it becomes more and more apparent that the Carolina Panthers are going to have to face one hard bout of reality — they aren’t going to be the team they were last year.
With veteran offensive lineman Jordan Gross leaving the team and reports that the organization is unsure about the future of so many key players, such as Steve Smith and Greg Hardy, the Panthers are facing a great deal of hardship. As if those problems weren’t enough, now guard Travelle Wharton has stated that he is unsure of his future in Carolina and may be retiring this offseason.
Wharton was a starting left guard last year who started in 12 games throughout the season and played in all 16. Losing him would take another player away from a depleted offensive line and give the Panthers’ organization more reasons to worry about the 2014 season. Wharton is another veteran the Panthers would love to keep, as losing him would put them in a compromising position and force them to use more valuable cap space to bring in replacements. Not only that, but even beyond losing another lineman, Wharton’s statement represents something even bigger for Carolina, the uncertainty of the team’s future.
When the dust settles after the NFL Draft and free agency, the Panthers will no doubt come away with some good players and solid re-signings. However, while GM Dave Gettleman aims to keep as many playmakers aboard as he can, the limited cap room that Carolina has access to, along with losing Gross, is going to be a blow that the Panthers are going to have a very difficult time recovering from.
Cam Newton will still be steering the ship in 2014, but this time it’s going to be through much rougher seas. His passing game still needs a new receiver, but that will only patch up a minor hole that will solve nothing if a depleted offensive line can’t block. In addition, the defense is going to lose players; that’s a fact that comes with 21 free agents, which hurts a solid unit that carried Carolina into the postseason.
Every team has ups and downs, but coming off such a successful year, the Panthers were hoping to make it through this offseason largely unscathed. Gettleman is doing a fine job balancing the budget, but as of right now, the setbacks are piling up for Carolina, and the team that comes out of that tunnel in 2014 while wearing the same helmets is going to have a lot of different faces.