The Panthers will be without two of their franchise players in 2010. Jake Delhomme and Julius Peppers have left the team, signaling the beginning of a new era in Carolina. Both players have been key to head coach John Fox's success, and their departure could foreshadow a more extensive rebuild if the team doesn't turn it around next season.
Delhomme and Peppers are not the only starters that have left the team. DT Maake Kemoeatu and LB Na'il Diggs have both signed free agent contracts with other teams. Their loss is mitigated by the fact that Diggs is an aging player best suited for a backup role, while Kemoeatu suffered a severely torn Achilles tendon.
Kickoff specialist Rhys Lloyd has also left the club. He has been replaced by the cheaper Todd Carter, but the Panthers may miss Lloyd's tremendous touch back ability. He recorded 51 touch backs in the past two seasons.
The team has yet to acquire any impact players via free agency, despite several gaping holes on the roster. DB Marcus Hudson, formerly of the San Francisco 49ers, has been brought in to serve as a gunner on special teams. Hudson is also capable of stepping in and playing at safety or corner back if need be. His versatility makes this a smart signing, but he is nothing more than a capable backup.
Defensive End Tyler Brayton has re-signed with Carolina. The veteran recorded five sacks opposite of Julius Pepper's in 2009, and his presence should help stabilize a defensive line in flux. He is the favorite to start at strong side defensive end in 2010.
Unfortunately for a team with so many issues, the Panthers do not possess a first round pick this year. Their pick was traded to the San Francisco 49ers, who will draft twice in the first round.
Team needs and 2009 Draft results after the jump...
- Wide Receiver: This could be the team's most pressing need. They need to find a capable number two wide receiver who they can then pair with Steve Smith. WR Taylor Price from Ohio could be an option in the 2nd or 3rd round.
- Defensive End: It seems unlikely that the Panthers will be able to find a player who can step in and immediately replace Julius Peppers' production from the defensive end spot. Still, his departure has left a void on the weak side of their line so look for them to draft another end at some point. If they can't find a capable replacement via the draft, it may be up to second year man Everette Brown to step in and start at Peppers' position.
- Quarterback: Matt Moore seems likely to get the starting nod at the beginning of the season. However, if he struggles the team will need a capable backup who can step in and lead. It remains to be seen if they will bring in a veteran, or draft a player with more upside who they can develop long term.
- Defensive Tackle: Carolina's porous run defense can be attributed in part to the aging interior of their defensive line. While the defensive ends get all the sacks and the glory, this is probably a more important need. If they can't find a way to shore up their run defense they will have a hard time staying competitive in 2010.
- Outside Linebacker: The departure of Diggs means that the team needs to find a new starter at outside linebacker. They should target a linebacker with more play making ability who they can plug in opposite of Thomas Davis. The club also needs to find a way to re-sign the talented Davis long term.
2009 Draft Results
- DE Everette Brown (Florida State)
- DB Sherrod Martin (Troy)
- DL Corvey Irvin (Georgia)
- RB Mike Goodson (Texas A&M)
- FB Tony Fiammetta (Syracuse)
- G Duke Robinson (Oklahoma)
- CB Captain Munnerlyn (South Carolina)