After four straight seasons of .500 or worse football, the Carolina Panthers emerged in 2013 to win the NFC South. They won an ugly 10-9 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in the regular season, but then were handled 23-10 in the playoffs. The Panthers held a 10-6 lead late in the first half, but a late second quarter touchdown got the 49ers the momentum they needed to take control in the second half.
While the Panthers put together a strong season, they now face quite a few questions heading into the 2014 season. The 49ers and Panthers do not face off in the regular season, but given the performance this past season, there was some thought that the 49ers and Panthers could become semi-regular playoff opponents moving forward. A week into free agency, there is some doubt surrounding the Panthers.
The big news today was word that quarterback Cam Newton will undergo ankle surgery. According to the reports, the recovery timeline is about four months. This means he would miss the entire offseason workout program, but be ready in time for the start of training camp. This is of course, barring any complications. According to Cat Scratch Reader, Newton first injured his ankle in the Panthers Week 16 win over the New Orleans Saints. Reports on Twitter have mentioned the 49ers game, but it sounds like that game was more of an aggravation than the initial injury.
Prior to this news, the Panthers lost quite a few players to free agency and retirement over the last week. The big news was the release of Steve Smith, but the team also saw left tackle Jordan Gross, and guard Geoff Hangartner both retire, and Captain Munnerlyn and Mike Mitchell depart in free agency.. Additionally, Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn Jr. have both departed, leaving the team with few pass catching options.
The team heads into the 2014 season dealing with a lot of dead money. It sounds like the team is cleaning up its salary cap house, but as 49ers fans know from back in the day, that can be a painful process. There was one discussion of how it's basically taking it on the chin in 2014 to get ready for 2015.
Fortunately, the 49ers have kept their salary cap house in relative order. They face a lot of questions with internal extensions, but I recommend giving Jason Hurley's FanPost a read. The 49ers have to be smart with their money, but the space is there to make some things happen. We probably won't see any extensions until at least June, when Carlos Rogers cap space clears.