The Panthers have a lot of work to this offseason as they look to turn the rebuild back in the right direction under Matt Rhule in Year 3. It starts at quarterback and left tackle, the two spots that have been talked about since the middle of the season as glaring question marks for this team. These are two positions where there is a strong chance that the team addresses this at all costs, whether that is through the draft or in free agency.
Tuesday, the future of the NFC South was shaken up a bit around the Carolina Panthers when Saints head coach Sean Payton announced that he was stepping away from the New Orleans Saints after a 16-year stint as the team's head coach. This is a major blow for a Saints team who was already going through the process of replacing the legendary Drew Brees and will now have to find a way to replace the most successful coach in franchise history.
It's no secret that the Panthers are in desperate need of offensive line help and late last week, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. had the team addressing that need. In his first mock draft of the season, he had the team taking Mississippi State offensive tackle Charles Cross, the third tackle off the board behind Alabama tackle Evan Neal, who he had going 3rd to the Texans, and Ikem Ekwonu, who he had going 5th to the Giants.
Jim Phillips, the commissioner of the ACC, is one of the main reasons that the College Football Playoff committee has not been able to agree on a deal to expand the playoff field. On a call with the media a couple of weeks ago, he explained that this is not an issue with the playoff itself, but rather with everything that is going on with college athletics at one time. Phillips has said that he wants to take a more "holistic approach" to the expansion and that right now the idea of staying at four teams is best for the time being.
There are expectations at North Carolina every year to compete for both ACC and national championships, no matter the head coach, roster, etc. When you've won 7 national titles, been to 20 Final Fours, it's safe to have those expectations. Entering this season, Carolina was transitioning from Hall of Famer Roy Williams to first-time head coach Hubert Davis, but expectations remained high. The Tar Heels currently sit at 12-5 overall, 4-2 in the ACC. Now those numbers aren't bad, but Carolina is sitting on the NCAA Tournament bubble, and have lost 3 games by 17 points are more, which means it is safe to say that UNC isn't living up to its potential. Brendan Marks joined Wilson & Norfleet earlier this afternoon, to explain why the Tar Heels struggles aren't all his fault:
The Panthers' offensive line issues are extremely well known locally and might be the biggest thing holding this Panther offense back under Matt Rhule. While there may not be an easy solution to the question mark that is this Panther team in the trenches, Joe Marino of The Draft Network released an article the other day breaking down how he would go about repairing this offensive line and allowing them to draft a quarterback this offseason in one fell swoop.
Charlotte is the 5th youngest team in the NBA, yet they are four games above .500 and appeared primed for a return to the NBA postseason this spring. Their record has to do with being a good home team, head coach James Borrego being vastly underrated, the continued development of LaMelo Ball, the steady play of veterans, and the emergence of Miles Bridges. Bridges has elevated his game this season and is the front-runner to be the NBA's Most Improved Player this season. He's having this type of season, after not being extended over the summer, as he turned down a four-year, $60 million deal reportedly offered by Charlotte. After the type of season he's having, it is safe to say the asking price is going to be much higher this July. In the NBA, teams that usually win championships, or are consistent contenders, are compromised of three All-Star level players, that carry the team night in, night out. It appears Charlotte has one piece of the puzzle in budding superstar LaMelo Ball, but the other two, remain a question, as Charlotte tries to be a competitor, despite being a small market team. Hornets beat reporter for The Charlotte Observer, Rod Boone, joined Wilson & Norfleet earlier today, and had this to say about Miles Bridges being a part of a Hornets big 3:
The Hornets suffered one of, if not their most disappointing loss of the season on Friday to the Orlando Magic in Charlotte, but they had an opportunity to get things back on track against a New York Knicks team that appeared to be getting themselves together after a rather disappointing start. They did just that with a dominant 97-87 win which was led by a career performance from Miles Bridges, who dropped 38 points on 14-20 shooting, and another nice afternoon from Terry Rozier, who finished with 22 points of his own.
Arm length had been a big storyline around Matt Rhule and the Panthers ever since he made the comments about them thinking of Brady Christensen as a guard because of his short arms. Rhule told the Mac Attack on Thursday that one of his biggest regrets from the season was not sticking with Christensen at left tackle after the Giants game where he struggled, making many fans angry that this was something that he didn't realize in season. Combine that with the fact that he revealed to the Mac Attack in his interview that the staff passed on second team All-Pro Rashawn Slater because they felt that he was a guard and the team wasn't willing to take a guard that high.
Panthers head coach Matt Rhule's job status might be the most polarizing storylines in both the city of Charlotte sports and in the NFL as the days go by and the owner of the team remains silent. Albert Breer of Monday Morning Quarterback said in answer a mailbag question on the site yesterday that nothing can be officially ruled out here because of what happened with Jeffrey Lurie and Doug Pederson a year ago where Pederson was let go more than a week after the conclusion of the season. On Thursday morning, Rhule took to the airwaves of WFNZ and talked to both the Mac Attack and the Wilson & Norfleet show to discuss his job status heading into year three and much, much more.