Lifelong Carolina Panthers fan here. Not to be over dramatic but my fandom for the football franchise was in jeopardy given what occurred over the past calendar year.
Maybe even dating a little further back then that when the situation with Cam Newton was mishandled as he played through an injury despite being out of playoff contention during the 2018 season. However, I understand change is good and necessary in some instances.
So when the Panthers fired head coach Ron Rivera during Week 14 of last season, I understood that the team needed a change of leadership. I was big supporter of Rivera’s tenure in Carolina, plus he was one of the few Latinos in the NFL in a prestigious position.
Then the Panthers went and hired Matt Rhule to be the head coach even though he had little experience at the NFL level and candidates like Greg Roman, Eric Bieniemy and Robert Saleh were still available.
A week later, Luke Kuechly shocked the football world and retired at the young age of 29, which was out of the Panthers control but hurt nonetheless. Carolina then ‘parted ways’ with Greg Olsen but the veteran tight end later announced Carolina pushed him out as he still wanted to continuing playing for the franchise.
And of course their was the entire saga with Newton. Rumors were being pumped out during the 2019 season that the Panthers intended to move on from him which led to a lot of uncertainty among fans. But nothing had been announced from the front office so there was a 5-6 month period of deflecting those accusations.
Newton then cleared the air momentarily when he stated he would be back for the Panthers 2020 season in an interview during Super Bowl weekend. This sent a sense of relief towards fans and it peaked when Rhule said he was excited to work with Newton during the 2020 NFL Combine.
All of that just to be heartbroken a few weeks later when the Panthers announced that they would ‘let’ the quarterback seek a trade this off-season.’ Newton then clapped back on Instagram and said ‘you forced me into this’ and ‘cut out the word play’ leaving Panthers fans in a state of confusion that could only be accurately represented by the ‘Confused Mr. Krabs’ meme.
The very next day, the Panthers announced they were signing quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in free agency which lead to a state of panic.
“Did this mean the Panthers were for sure trading Cam? Is Bridgewater really going to replace Newton? Why not just tank the season away with Kyle Allen for a top pick? Could they hang on to both Newton and Bridgewater and let them battle it out? Isn’t Bridgewater just a game manager?” These were some of the questions floating around Panthers fans’ minds at the time.
I was ready to give up on the franchise at this point. The betrayal of Newton and Olsen this off-season plus the previous mishandling of Josh Norman, Steve Smith Sr. and DeAngelo Williams in the past had me feeling some type of way.
But as the famous quote goes, “my momma didn’t raise no quitter.” I thought it would be best to give it some time and see how the 2020 NFL Draft played out before I declared my fandom for the Panthers was terminated.
Round one of the draft finally came and with it, was a miracle. Isaiah Simmons, arguably one of the best prospects of the draft (and I say that as an unbiased draft scout who scouted over 60-some players) was available at number 7 overall. What are the odds!
A formidable player that was to sure change the landscape of the Panthers defensive back seven. However, the Panthers dropped a curve ball and selected defensive tackle Derrick Brown instead. My jaw just dropped in a state of awe and I was then berated by a series of messages from friends and colleagues that poked fun at the pick.
Brown was a top-15 caliber prospect but Simmons was in my top five. I was heartbroken once again this off-season and had little faith in the direction the franchise was heading in.
Miraculously, other franchises like the Atalanta Falcons, Philadelphia Eagles and others kept botching picks left and right leaving a very pleasant surprise at pick no.38. Yetur Gross-Matos, who many agreed was a first-round caliber pick, was available and the Panthers selected the defensive end.
In surprising fashion, the Panthers then jumped from pick no.69 to no.64 at the end of the second round to select defensive back Jeremy Chinn. Many – including myself – thought Chinn was a top-40 caliber type player so the value was tremendous. Plus, it’s worth mentioning the Panthers used the fifth round pick (no.148) that they received from Washington for Kyle Allen to jump the five spots. Riverboat Ron still finding ways to help Carolina out.
The Panthers then proceeded to have a nice Day three of the draft and picked up Troy Pride Jr., a speedy corner back from Notre Dame, in round four and then selected Kenny Robinson Jr., a safety with XFL experience, in round 5. In round six, the Panthers selected defensive tackle Bravvion Roy out of Baylor, a player who Rhule and defensive coordinator Phil Snow are familiar with. Carolina concluded the draft with corner back Stanley Thomas-Oliver III out of Florida International in the seventh round.
Final Draft Assessment: A-
Hard not to love this Panthers draft class even with the blunder in round one. Adding Brown and Gross-Matos to the starting lineup will instantly improve the defensive line alongside Kawann Short and Brian Burns. Chinn is a poor man’s Simmons and will immediately improve their defense. Pride Jr., Robinson Jr. and Roy all have a chance to contribute early on in the defensive rotation as well.
Plus the additions of wide receiver Omar Bayless, tight end Giovanni Ricci and linebacker Chris Orr were solid additions in the undrafted free agent market.
All that being said, I am ready to give the Panthers another chance. But just like someone who just got out of a heartbreaking relationship, I will remain cautious and keep my distance in case they disappoint me again.