After a failed Matt Rhule experiment–how can the Panthers best position themselves for success in the future? Hiring the right coach and spending resources wisely is a great start.
Before owner David Tepper reaches for his checkbook (again), any potential head coach candidate needs to be sold on coaching this roster. And just how attractive is the Panther’s job? The answer is blurry. With a new coach coming in, future draft capital plays a huge role in determining the speed and efficiency of a rebuild. Luckily for the Panthers, we currently hold a 42% chance to land the first overall pick in 2023, according to Football Outsiders. Previous front offices for the Panthers have drafted foundational, building-block pieces (i.e. Burns, Horn, Brown), but management of draft capital has been unwise, short-sighted, and even impulsive at times. While the Panthers only owned four picks in the 2023 draft prior to the McCaffrey trade, we now own five of the top hundred selections.
This front office has recouped draft capital, but the Panthers still have a shortage of actual capital. As it stands, post-McCaffrey trade, we have around $10 million in 2022 and $1 million in 2023. We can roll extra money over to next year, but we’re still on the hook for over $25 million in dead cap through the 2023 season. There are moves the Panthers can make to alleviate some of that pressure (note: Shaq Thompson accounts for 10% of ’23 cap) but we’re financially locked up for the most part. An abundance of back-loaded contracts puts us in financial jail and although trading away Thompson doesn’t free much money, but it could put another third-rounder in our pocket.
A factor of any job offer is liking your boss. A head coach looking to take this team to the next level does not want to be micro-managed by a billion-dollar hedge fund guy. Bluntly, Tepper doesn’t strike me as somebody that’s easy to work for. His complacency and can’t-be-wrong attitude allowed the Matt Rhule experience to continue for far too long. He also has a Jerry Jones tendency to be too involved in the draft process; the best owners are laissez-faire–sit back and let the football guys do what they do.
In a video from the 2022 draft (skip to 19:00), Tepper can be seen pressuring Rhule and Fitterer into making a questionable trade-up for rookie quarterback Matt Corral. Considering we were already light on picks, this seemed like he was throwing up a Hail Mary. Tepper thinking he would find a franchise QB in the third round is like picking up a lottery ticket on the sidewalk and thinking it’s a winner.
A head coach ideally wants to come into a situation where there are resources to go and get talent, either through the draft or free agency, but the inherited roster is more important. Coming into work on day one and having a lockdown corner in Jaycee Horn is rare in the NFL. A hybrid, all-over-the-field player like Jeremy Chinn is a player coaches would kill to have. A talented tandem of Brian Burns and Derrick Brown along the front four creates the base of a menacing defensive line. Fun fact: all four of those guys are still on their rookie deal—not only do the Panthers have studs, they have cheap studs.
On offense, DJ Moore is a quality weapon and a franchise left tackle improving week by week on a rookie contract doesn’t hurt either. The other hogs along the offensive line are affordable, adept, and violent. Not only will this team likely have a new gunslinger in 2023, but we can protect him and give him a go-to receiver. That’s a convincing cast that’ll only get better through the draft. This should be enough to entice any head coach to pack his bags for Charlotte. Contrary to most fans’ opinions, this team is not in a complete tear-down. The Panthers have a young core that can be built upon; with a little magic, this squad can be in the playoffs in three years. Keep in mind that in 2024 we have about $140 million to play around with.
Rebuilding teams that have found success, like the Dolphins, Eagles, Giants, and 49ers, all have one thing in common—a young, offensive-minded head coach. Tepper is a businessman—high-powered offenses win games and put fans in seats, and more wins mean more cash in the wallet. The NFL is changing and you either change with it, or you’re left behind. After failing with a college coach, I think Tepper has his eye on someone with robust NFL coaching experience and a proven track record. Who better to fill that role than Shane Steichen.
Put it in the books, Shane Steichen will lead the Carolina Panthers to the playoffs for the first time since 2017.
The current offensive coordinator in Philadelphia is the perfect candidate for the Carolina Panthers. Having coached in the league for nearly ten years, there is no shortage of NFL experience. While he’s led to Eagles to a perfect record thus far, there is more to Steichen than meets the eye–most notably his proven ability to develop quarterbacks. Jalen Hurts is playing at an MVP level. Justin Herbert took home Offensive Rookie of the Year with Steichen as his offensive coordinator. Taking it back even further, Steichen was Phillip Rivers’ position coach, helping him to three straight pro bowls and a top-five finish in both passing yards and touchdowns.
A glaring shortcoming of the Matt Rhule experience was his inability to produce a quarterback. Two areas that have plagued the Panthers offense is scoring points through the air and converting on third downs. Steichen’s Eagles rank top ten in passing yards, completion percentage, and rank third in expected points contributed through the air through Week 6. The Eagles also rank fourth in the league in third-down efficiency.
We can agree that Justin Herbert and Jalen Hurts don’t possess the same skill set, yet Steichen found sustainable success with both. Rather than forcing a square peg in a round hole, he takes his QB’s existing traits and molds his offense around them. As a compelling counterexample, Matt Eberflus of the Bears is taking a dual-threat QB in Justin Fields and forcing him to be a pocket passer. News flash: it’s not working. With whatever QB Steichen finds himself coaching in Carolina, I’m confident in his ability to be fluid in his approach and have a creative, innovative offense that ***scores points***.
Here’s my pitch to hire Duce Staley for Panthers offensive coordinator: the guy knows how to run the football. He’s experienced, with ten years of coaching and several years playing, both at the NFL level. That’s something that can’t be said for McAdoo and Joe Brady. Staley is a ground game guru and I think that would nicely complement Steichen’s offensive identity.
It wouldn’t be a hard sell either for Steichen either. As a former Gamecock, the Carolinas are in Staley’s DNA. With McCaffrey now off to San Francisco this gives D’Onta Foreman 11 games to prove to the front office he is worth keeping around, Staley’s history with players like Deandre Swift gets me excited about what he can do with our guys. Oh, and he has a Superbowl ring too, something the Panthers are desperate for.
On defense, my pick of candidates would Cowboy’s secondary coach Joe Whitt. Much like the previous two coaches, his track record pops off the screen. He was the cornerbacks’ coach for the Packers when Charles Woodson won Defensive Player of the Year, he won a Superbowl with the 2010 Packers, his secondary had a league-high in interceptions, the defense was top ten in allowed passer rating, and top ten in opponent completion percentage. Should I continue?
He then coached in Atlanta where he guided AJ Terrel to a candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year. That brings us to his current team in Dallas; when Whitt arrived in 2021, Trevon Diggs was a struggling rookie. If Whitt can take Trevon Diggs and elevate him to Defensive Player of the Year finalist, like he did last season, imagine what he can do with our guys. Jaycee Horn, a more physical, twitchier version of Diggs, has sky-high potential with Whitt calling coverages. Giving Whitt two freak athletes like Luvu and Chinn is a scary thought for 31 other coaches.
The Panthers’ front office is starting to correct past transgressions–giving Matt Rhule an early offseason was an excellent first step. Phase two was recovering draft picks, check. Now we need to complete the tank, which is easier said than done. Only one loss is the difference between us having the first pick and the tenth pick so there is little room for the Panthers to start winning games. With a quality 2023 draft class and the right guy on the sidelines, there’s no reason we can’t have a quick turnaround and be competitive by the 2024 season.