One rookie or free agent, no matter how strong, fast or athletic, is not going to cut it for the Carolina Panthers. As of early this week, reports have stated that wide receiver Steve Smith is not going to be returning to the team in the 2014 season. As such, the Panthers are currently looking to trade Smith, whose contract is too much for the team to handle, which would probably be the only saving grace in what appears to be a very foolhardy move. Not only that, but second and third receivers Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn Jr. are both headed into unrestricted free agency.
Losing veteran offensive lineman Jordan Gross earlier this offseason was a big blow to the Panthers’ already shaky offensive line, and the Panthers were hoping to solve the problem sooner rather than later. However, without Smith, getting a wide receiver now has to be the focus of the organization. All three of the Panthers’ top wide receivers (Ginn, Smith and LaFell) are in danger of leaving the team for good which would further cripple the passing attack. Originally with Smith still on the team, the Panthers had a chance to take an offensive lineman along with a young wide receiver during free agency or the NFL Draft. Now if they want to try and recover, they need to think about what receiver would be a good target for Cam Newton, not what lineman could protect him.
The offseason has not been kind to the Panthers. As of free agency, they have 17 players (including the aforementioned wide receiving threats) heading into unrestricted free agency and only $7 million in cap space. That is not a good place to be. This predicament will most likely leave the Panthers scrambling to find a way to keep their offense intact. Putting a tag on defensive star Greg Hardy was a good start at providing the defense with a solid playmaker, but if there is no offense to complement that move then it will all be for naught.
There are some solid wide receiver options in free agency for the Panthers, and those are options the Panthers need to explore. If they had kept Smith, then they could have just put all of their chips into the draft, taking a young, talented player to accompany the veteran. However, because Smith is no longer on the team, their receiving corps now lacks experience, and placing a rookie into that position will not suffice. As a result, because of the recent loss, the Panthers can no longer rely on a rookie to bring in touchdowns and must find someone on the free agent market. And they must do it soon.