The Carolina Panthers won the NFC South last season when they finished 12-4 and went to the divisional playoffs.
It was a watershed moment for young Cam Newton. It looked like the team finally had the ability to compete for years to come.
However, certain issues may have changed the equation.
Former general manager Marty Hurney made a questionable move when he gave a five-year contract extension to DeAngelo Williams in 2011. It cost too much money for a running back.
Another costly move was giving the franchise tag to Greg Hardy this past off-season. It cost the team $13.116 million for the defensive end. It was a good decision by the current GM Dave Gettleman because Hardy had 15 sacks last season. However, this decision affected the rest of the roster.
Several players that left Carolina in free agency included Captain Munnerlyn, Drayton Florence and Mike Mitchell. This was a big part of their secondary from last season. Needless to say, it is a time of transition for this defense.
They are replacing three-fourths of the starters from last season. Free agent signings Thomas DeCoud and Roman Harper need time to get acclimated to the system. It may be awhile before the secondary is back to normal for the team.
Fortunately for the Panthers, their front seven may be the best in football. The defensive line will need to consistently generate pressure to shield a vulnerable secondary. The offense is a huge problem.
Even with his talent, Newton may not be able to overcome the lack of personnel at the skill positions.
Wide receiver is the most glaring weakness on the offense. Their No.1 draft choice, Kelvin Benjamin, will be Newton’s best option. Benjamin is a tall and explosive receiver. His issue is that he is raw and needs experience. It is a lot to ask of a rookie.
Carolina have brought in Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant. They are decent veterans. Greg Olsen is a reliable tight end with good hands and route-running. That may not be enough to help Newton. Running back is also a problem. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are aging and ineffective.
Mike Tolbert is the goal-line back and is only effective in that role. None of this will matter if the biggest issue isn’t fixed.
Their offensive line is in shambles. Jordan Gross has retired, leaving a gap at left tackle. The team will try to fill the hole with last season’s right tackle Byron Bell. Nate Chandler will man the right side this season. He is a former defensive lineman who has been converted to an offensive tackle.
Left guard will be played by Amini Silatolu, who is coming from a torn ACL. Third-round pick Trai Turner of LSU is the favorite to play right guard. Ryan Kalil will be back at center. He is a four-time Pro Bowler. The interior may be fine, but I am concerned that the tackles will be liabilities. Cam may be constantly under duress this season.
Carolina may be a contender in the NFC South. There is still a lot of talent on the team. However, the issues at certain positions could be too much to overcome.