As it has became a common theme for fans during the off-season to get way ahead of themselves and overly optimistic about their respective NFL teams because of the draft and off-season acquisitions through free agency.
I thought I would instead change my approach to this post. I will make a probably poor attempt into looking into our future over the next 6 seasons and what our futures may hold for our Carolina Panthers and Cam Newton.
Why 6 seasons you may wonder? That is because as most of you already know recently the Carolina Panthers signed QB Cam Newton to a 5 year $103 million dollar extension that will run through the 2020 season. Investing themselves into Cam as the Panthers future and franchise QB.
I have listened to both sides of the arguments through various radio stations, pundits, and forums. From the believers who think Cam will take us to the promise land, and to the haters who think Cam is a terrible QB who we just overpaid and wasted the next 6 years on. There are always two sides to any fan base and as it is a lot are split on our QB and the decision to pay him the contract he received.
So it brings up the question, how will this play out and where will we be after 6 more years with Cam as the franchise QB? Will we win a Super Bowl? Will we be contenders yearly just falling short of the mark? Will this all blow up in our face and we find ourselves drafting in the early stages of the draft looking for a new QB by the time his deal is up?
Those are questions I can not answer, but I can try and take a guess at based off what the Panthers have done and been doing. I will preface this by saying I am a Cam believer and I do think it was a great decision to extend him for the next 6 years.
Saying that if you look at the development of Cam over his first 4 seasons in the league. Coming from a guy who played one year of major college football in a spread system. Moving to a NFL franchise who was picking 1st in the draft because of how terrible the team was and being installed into a pro style offense with a head coach who had never been a head coach before.
It’s hard to say he hasn’t played great. He has gradually improved every season as a pocket passer something which he wasn’t asked to do that often in his one year in division 1 college.
Fans wanted instant gratification with Newton and the Panthers in the first two seasons in the league. We are a impatient bunch and very fickle. What many failed to understand was there were going to be rough patches and growing pains due to the factors above.
The constant argument I hear on Cam is his mechanics. Most arguments fall onto Cam’s footwork and his problem with overthrowing his receivers. Both are fixable. There are those who say he takes too long on his reads as well but I have thought he has been a pretty decent decision maker.
I do agree Cam does have a tendency to throw off his back foot and not step into his passes and he needs to learn to put some touch on the football. Saying that he has gradually improved in those areas every season. Even given the circumstances of last year especially when he looked to feel healthy you seen much better play as a pocket passer.
People want to point to his QBR and label him based off of stats last season. Those same people won’t include circumstance into their argument though. Outside of Panthers fans no one talks about dealing with a surgically repaired ankle which caused him to miss most of the off-season, the cracked ribs from pre-season, the cracked back from the wreck, losing his entire receiving corp, changing the entire offensive line, and then losing all of his running backs by the 3rd or 4th game of the year. No one adds those as contributing factors to his QBR.
Is he a finished product? No but those are area’s that must continue to improve more for us to sustain any sort of long term success or reach the promise land with him as the QB, and according to Rivera & Newton’s comments from a article by Chris Wesseling of NFL.COM then this is already the focus of this off-season for 2015.
“(Quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey and offensive coordinator Mike Shula) want him to get his feet in the proper position — then throw the ball,” Rivera explained. “You do see the difference.”
“It’s all about footwork and trusting the protection,” Newton acknowledged.
When you get past Cam and look around him to what GM Dave Gettleman and Coach Ron Rivera are doing you see a plan that in the long run can be very successful. While a lot of us were sent into shock after winning the division in 2013 only to see the roster gutted in the 2014 off-season.
Gettleman & Rivera weren’t panicking. They were clearing roster space to pay Newton & Luke to lock them down long term but to also build around both of them as centerpieces for both the offense & defense. Gettleman & Rivera’s approach is a strong defense lead by a strong line & linebacker group. A offense that can pound the football which is a compliment the defense with skyscrapers on the outside at wide receiver and tight end. This way they can compete with the new NFL trend of bigger taller secondary players.
While Gettleman is weeding out some of the older veterans who are eating a lot of cap space. He is also adding young pieces that will grow with Cam in the future for a chance at more stable long term success. The next step is coaching, do we have the staff to get the most out of Cam and this team? I do believe defensively we do, and I like Rivera as a head coach because the players respect and play for Rivera. Plus Rivera’s a proven defensive guru.
I know most would give a undoubted no to this question. With me it’s hard to judge based off the last two seasons. While Shula has shown signs of being inept to adapting to the players he has been dealt or making some pretty boneheaded play calls at crucial points in games.
When you look at 2013 & 2014 his two seasons as OC it’s hard to judge based off the personnel he was dealt. Can a ball control ground and pound offense work? Absolutely it can which has been proven most recently by the Seahawks.
The problem falls on do you have the personnel to execute that type of game plan and in 2014 we didn’t. You can’t run that kind of offense when you have to replace so much including your offensive line and then deal with injuries at running back especially to your top 3 backs. So its hard for me to dig at him as a OC given those circumstances surrounding why the offense failed for most of last season.
Even in 2013 where Cam’s weapons consisted of Steve Smith, Brandon Lafell, Ted Ginn Jr, & Domenik Hixon. Sure the offensive line was better but there were issues at Guard, and Byron Bell was your RT. While also relying on DeAngelo & Tolbert to pound the rock while Stewart spent a lot of the year injured.
While that was a improvement from 2014 you still had less weapons surrounding Cam or options at wide receiver. Also this was the first year of the change from the offense Chud ran to the style Shula runs. Even under those circumstances we won 12 games and the division. So it’s hard to judge Shula’s capabilities based off the personnel he has been dealt to run his offense under in his first two seasons as OC.
I do think however this season would be Shula’s best opportunity to shine as a OC. He has a offensive line with cohesion with youth, a younger running back group, and probably the most weapons around Cam since we drafted him. This is a make or break year for Shula as the OC but I also think it will be his best opportunity to prove why Gettleman & Rivera have been so adamant about sticking it out with Shula. Long term success for Cam will hinge on how capable the OC & QB coach is and if they’re able to continue his development and bring out the best of Cam through their offense.
I will say however that the ground & pound ball control offense Shula runs has the capabilities to take us to the playoffs continuously, and possibly take us at the very least to a NFC Championship Game with the right pieces in place. It all will fall on how Shula calls it and how the players execute it.
When you move on from what we have done internally and look at other teams within our own division you see a team with the Saints who will probably be facing a time very soon without Drew Brees, a Falcons team who the Panthers will be fighting for the Division against for years, and a Buccaneers team still trying to figure out their identity.
Keys to sustaining a long term success. A franchise QB, a good OC, a strong defense, managing the cap well, being able to resign your own without overspending in free agency, and drafting well enough to land two or three players that will be able to contribute every year. This is a proven formula for a lot of successful NFL franchises who have maintained success over the years like the Packers, Steelers, Ravens, etc.
I do believe based off the direction they are taking this team and by looking around our own division that this franchise under Cam can be yearly contenders the next 6 years. Will we win a Super Bowl in those 6 years? The biased fanboy in me says undoubtedly yes we get one.
Putting the fanboy side of me aside it’s hard for any team to win a Super Bowl. Many franchise’s have gone decades without winning one. So while I am confident in our franchise QB Cam, the plan in place, and based off of my views of other franchises around us that I can say we will be contenders in those 6 years more often than not. It’s hard for me to truly say as long as Mike Shula is OC that we will have a Super Bowl within the next 6 years. I think a lot rides on Shula or the OC that is here in that time period to help continue to bring Cam along and develop him.
As far as Cam I do believe he can take us to the promise land and has the makings of a great NFL QB. What he does for these next 6 years will define his legacy in the NFL. He has all the tools, the attitude, and work ethic to make these things happen. Will he hold a Lombardi? Time will tell but I don’t believe we will be picking in the early part of the draft by the time these 6 years are up and in the end we will say the money was worth it.