One of the most important factors in Cam Newton’s success as a rookie were the great weapons he had around him during the 2011 season. You can’t say enough about Steve Smith and his unquestionable value to the franchise and the development of our quarterback. Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey, our most valuable free agent acquisitions, proved invaluable due to the matchup problems they caused for opposing defenses. Brandon Lafell, who I am convinced will be a star to our franchise, was notorious for his clutch, acrobatic catches. Even Legadu Nanee, a player once cursed by our fanbase, was a viable target to Cam and came through in a number of games. As the future of the franchise rests on Cam Newton’s shoulders, I think it is essential that we continue to surround him with great weapons.
Every Panthers’ fan is anxious to see how David Gettis performs next year returning from injury. You can’t do much better in terms of straight line speed, and that will be very important considering our tendency to throw the ball deep downfield. Gettis also showed savvy as a route runner and has the ability to use his quickness and large frame to get open downfield. More importantly, though, are his hands. Gettis seemed to have great hands and very few drops. I am among those who feel that he will be outstanding going forward, but also took note of Rivera’s frustration towards him during training camp last year. Granted, Lafell was on that list as well but proved this year that he is a more than capable of being a reliable starter.
Barring a huge surprise, of which there are many on draft day, the Panthers will likely take defensive players with their early picks. This makes a lot of sense and I am a proponent of this strategy unless Blackmon somehow falls to us (which he won’t). Draft experts are not nearly as high on this receiving class as they have been to those in years’ past, but do not rule out late-round value. Among these potential candidates are Mohamed Sanu, Rueben Randle, and Tommy Streeter. But the likelihood of our drafting any of these players is not great, and I believe we must look at free agency. This makes a great deal of sense as we are not necessarily looking for developmental players. This team is hungry, and we need impact players that can help us win NOW.
As such, I think it is important to take a look at Free Agency. This is one of the deepest wide receiver classes as you will ever see. This is great news for our organization as we do not have the cap room to afford any of the headlining stars. As for our salary cap, I will be interested to see how much cap room we can free up. It will certainly be a priority for our front office, but how much can we really open up?
I look toward perennial underperformers who are being paid too much. The name that jumps out at me is Travelle Wharton. The guy is getting paid way too much and will likely be at the top of the “cut-player-for-cap-room” list.
If we were somehow able to free up enough space to sign a weapon at receiver, I have no doubt that the Panthers’ brass will do so. This is evidenced by our pursuit of Santana Moss and our interest in AJ Green in last year’s draft. As such, I have compiled a list of free agents that make sense for the Panthers to sign…
1. Pierre Garcon:
With the likes of Vincent Jackson, Dwayne Bowe, Reggie Wayne, and Marques Colston without a contract, Pierre Garcon will likely come at a bargain. Sources confirm that he will, in fact, test the market this year. Garcon is not as consistent as you would like, but he is still a solid prospect who is getting better every year. His straight line speed is unparalleled, and he has proven that he can make huge plays when they are badly needed. He saw a resurgence this year on a Colts’ team reminiscent of the Jimmy Clausen-led Panthers. What could he do with Cam?
2. Robert Meachum
Likely a victim of the Saints’ salary cap, Meachum will be a huge bargain this offseason. He is incredibly fast and has great hands. He won’t make leaping, acrobatic catches, but that’s not the player you are paying for. The guy has thrived in the Saints’ offense and could do the same under Chudzinski’s offense. Panthers’ fans have seen him at his best against us. Furthermore, he could give us valuable insight into a team who kills us twice a year.
3. Harry Douglas
Though not a big name, Douglas has been a reliable third receiver for the Atlanta Falcons for the past few years. He lacks elite anything, but does boast remarkable speed as well as decent hands. In a system that caters to big plays downfield (huuhummm…), Douglas could be very successful and remind you of a Torrey Smith our of Baltimore. Like Meachum, he could help us beat the Falcons’ (our second-most hated rival, congrats New Orleans).