The Rookies

It has been a busy offseason for the Carolina Panthers

This year is an odd one for Charlotte sports. It started last season after the Charlotte Hornets traded Kemba Walker to the Boston Celtics for Terry Rozier, who I think has played very well thus far for Buzz City. And then comes football season. With Cam Newton injuring his shoulder and missing the final two games of the 2018 season, everyone was anxious and ready to see how he'd bounce back in 2019. He was bouncing back alright, until he suffered a Lisfranc injury in Week 3 of the preseason against the New England Patriots (who I think will be his new team). Cam Newton and the Panthers struggled Weeks 1 and 2 of last season against the Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After failing to convert a 4th&short direct-snap to Christian McCaffrey on the one-yard line to defeat Tampa Bay at home eyebrows were raised and people started asking questions. "You have a 6-4, 245 pound freak of nature behind center, why wouldn't he just run it?" Fans got the answers to their question when Cam posted this video on his YouTube channel. Kyle Allen stepped in at the helm for an injured QB1 and got off to a very fast and productive start, winning four straight games in 2019. As the season went on Allen began to struggle in the pocket, the once feared defense were letting teams run all over them and special teams were giving up big plays. When Allen was winning there was a huge debate within sports media, "Allen or Newton?" That was a primetime story everyday. "What do the Panthers do when Cam is ready to come back?" That's the thing, Cam never came back. His Linsfranc injury was a difficult one and it was hard for medical personnel to pinpoint an exact time when Newton could return to the field. As the offseason began questions about Cam started coming back. This season, Cam would be entering the final year on his contract and he would have a cap hit around $19 million. It seemed like the future of Cam Newton would be the biggest story involving the Carolina Panthers.... and then this happened: Luke Kuechly announces retirement: On Tuesday, January 14, 2020, the 2012 first-round pick and arguably the best linebacker in the NFL since then announced he was stepping away from football. At 28-years-old Luke Kuechly was automatic when it came to bringing down the ball carrier. LUUUUKE's resume is an impressive one. It includes 7 Pro Bowls, 7 AP All-Pro selections (5 on the first team), DPOY in 2013, and NFL Defensive ROTY in 2012. Kuechly entered the NFL in 2012. In his career he racked up 1,092 tackles (most in NFL since entering league) and 18 interceptions (most by a linebacker since 2012). Kuechly's 75 tackles for loss are tied for fifth-most over that span. Two of those 18 career interceptions were returned for a touchdown in 2015 against Seattle in the divisional round matchup and Arizona in the NFC Championship Game. Luke's announcement took social media by storm. Tributes from thousands of fans flooded Twitter and Facebook thanking the captain for all he's done in Carolina for 8 seasons. This abrupt announcement should've been an indicator of how crazy this offseason was about to be. Greg Olsen and the Carolina Panthers "mutually" agree to part ways: I put mutually in quotation marks because after the move Greg Olsen said on social media and in multiple interviews that the decision wasn't as mutual as the team made it out to be. Olsen said that the Panthers were apart of his future, but he wasn't apart of theirs. I think some fans were expecting this. Olsen has done so much for Carolina, but with a new head coach, new owner and the beginning of rebuild looming on the horizon, I thought that we may have seen Greg play his last game in Carolina. I was right. Even though I expected it, it didn't make the news of him leaving any easier to hear, especially with Luke announcing his retirement two weeks before. "On the field, I will always cherish the nine seasons we shared together. The wins, the losses, standing at midfield holding the Halas Trophy as NFC champs. The reality of going to the Super Bowl was beyond words, as was the disappointment of falling short," Olsen said. "Off the field is where my family felt the warmest embrace. In 2012, upon the news breaking regarding the challenges our son would face, the entire Carolina community wrapped their arms around us in support. My wife Kara and I will be forever grateful for the love and prayers shared with us since that time." "Regardless of what path we choose, I will always be a Carolina Panther." As of now, Olsen has played 13 seasons in the NFL. Nine of those in Bank of America Stadium. Olsen ranks fifth all-time among tight ends in both catches (718) and yards (8,444). The 34-year-old is the franchise's all-time leading tight end in receiving yards (6,463), receptions (524) and 100-yard receiving games (10). Olsen also ranks third all-time in receiving yards and receptions behind Steve Smith and Muhsin "MOOOOOSE" Muhammad. Olsen eventually ended up finding a home in Seattle with the Seahawks. I'm  happy for him... but it's the Seahawks. Wes Horton announces retirement via Instagram: Panthers defensive end Wes Horton was originally signed as an undrafted free agent in 2013. Horton played 6 seasons in Carolina before signing with New Orleans in 2018, and then came back to finish his career in Charlotte in 2019. Wes Horton started 38 of the 83 career games he appeared in. Horton finished his career with 15.5 sacks including a career-best 5.5 sacks in the 2017 playoff season for the Panthers. In 2017 Horton also forced three fumbles which led the Panthers and Horton was ranked fifth among defensive ends that season. Reggie Bonnafon signs one-year extension with Carolina: Bonnafon was the backup for THE Christian McCaffrey this past season. He finished last season with 16 carries for 116 yards and his first career touchdown. You may remember Bonnafon's first and only touchdown. When McCaffrey was sidelined in the fourth quarter against Jacksonville after cramping, Bonnafon scored on a 59-yard run, putting the icing on the cake for that game. Bonnafon spent the 2018 season on the Panthers' practice squad before making the roster in 2019. I like the deal. Cole Luke signs one-year extension: Just like Bonnafon, Luke spent the 2018 season on the practice squad before making the roster in 2019 and recording 2 tackles in the 8 games he appeared in. Luke is a product from Notre Dame who spent his rookie season (2017) on injured reserve with an ankle injury. Kicker Joey Slye signs one-year extension Joey Slye took over as Carolina's kicker after Graham Gano was placed on injured reserve just before the start of the 2019 season. As a rookie in 2019, Slye made 25 of his 32 field goal attempts and went 31-35 on his extra points (one block). The rookie kicker was 8-11 from 50+ and his longest field goal came at 55 yards. Slye's 8 made field goals from 50+ yards led the league and stand as a franchise record. Out of Slye's 70 kickoffs, only 3 didn't result in touchbacks. Slye had a tough game against New Orleans late in the season missing an extra point and the potential game-winning field goal. After that tough game, Slye finished the season 100% on both field goals and extra points. I like Slye and I'm happy he's back in the Black & Blue. Gano is under contract until 2021. Panthers and Chargers swap Offensive Linemen: On March 4, Adam Schefter reported that Carolina would acquire left tackle Russell Okung from LA in exchange for guard Trai Turner. Both teams couldn't comment or confirm the trade until the new league year began on March 18. 31-year-old Russell Okung has one year remaining on his contract and spent the last three seasons with the Chargers. Okung started in 6 games last season after suffering blood clot related injuries. According to Pro Football Focus, Okung gave up zero sacks and only 5 pressures in his 6 games. The Panthers drafted Trai Turner, who's now 26-years-old, in the 3rd round of the 2014 draft out of LSU. Turner established himself as one of Carolina's reliable offensive linemen and has been selected to 5 pro bowls. According to PFF, Turner ranked 30th among guards in 2019 who played at least 50% of the snaps. As I'm typing this, the trade is now official and Okung will join Taylor Moton and Greg Little at tackle. In all honesty, I was very shocked that the Panthers didn't get any draft picks in this deal. When a team trades away their best OL, you would think draft picks would be included... right? Panthers sign DE Chris Smith to one-year deal: This was a great move by Carolina and that's my full and definitely biased opinion. I met Chris when I was in elementary school. He graduated years before me at West Rowan High School in Mt. Ulla, NC (Rowan County). As a wee lad in grade school, I would often serve as the water boy for West Rowan's men's basketball team. It gave me something to do and my dad was a sports writer for the local newspaper so I was at high school sporting events every night growing up. I remember one conversation I had with Chris when he came to the bench after a timeout during one of the basketball games. He sat down and I handed him his water and warm ups and asked "Chris, why are your feet so big?" This man wore like a size 18 as a junior in high school. He turned around, laughed and said, "I don't know, man... Jesus." ...…. What? After his girlfriend was killed in a tragic car accident, the Salisbury, N.C. native decided to get back on the field. Chris stands 6-1 and weighs 266 pounds. He's played in 60 career games over 6 seasons, compiling 68 total tackles, 8.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. Smith was drafted in the fifth-round out of Arkansas by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2014. He spent one year with the Bengals in 2017 and his only 2 starts came with the Browns in 2018. Welcome home, Chris! Kyle Allen signs one-year extension: The 24-year-old started 12 games last season in place of an injured Cam Newton. He and the Panthers went 5-7 after winning his first four starts of the season. With a 62% completion rate, Allen threw for 3,322 yards. 17 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Allen lost 7 fumbles and finished the year with an 80 passer rating (80-85 is considered average). Allen was benched the final two games of last season and third-round draft pick Will Grier stepped in and didn't do much better. Allen will look to serve as the back up to new quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Panthers release safety Colin Jones: Is it fair to say that Colin Jones could be considered the Taysom Hill of Carolina's special teams? It's not? Well I'm going to consider it anyway. At 32-years-old, Jones played the last 8 seasons with Carolina as a reserve safety. For the past two seasons he served as a captain for the special teams. Jones had a team-leading 9 special teams tackles in 2019. According to coach statistics, Jones finished last season tied for second in franchise history with 61 career Special Teams tackles. Jones has played in 137 career games with 124 of those being with Carolina. Two memorable plays from Jones' career was converting a fake punt in 2019 and scoring his first career touchdown on a fumble recovery on punt coverage in 2018. Panthers give Cam Newton permission to seek trade: At the 2020 NFL Combine head coach Matt Rhule said he'd love the opportunity to coach Cam. A month ago owner David Tepper said "tell me when he's healthy and then we'll talk." Well Tuesday the Panthers allowed Cam and his team to seek a trade. This was the first time the Panthers posted on any social media regarding Cam's future in Carolina, and it wasn't a good sign for the Cam stans like me. General Manager Marty Hurney met with Newton and his team to discuss the future of Cam Newton and the Panthers, alluding to the end of a 9-year-run between Carolina and the 2011 #1 overall pick. Newton at 31-years-old has made the Pro Bowl 3 times and was named the NFL MVP in 2015. Newton has suffered numerous injuries since 2016 which is a big factor in the decision to allow him to seek a trade. You can read more about that here. Newton is the Panthers' franchise leader in passing yards, passing touchdowns and rushing touchdowns. He has a career record of 68-55-1. Panthers release safety Eric Reid: This one came as a surprise. This felt like a very random move. Reid was signed by Carolina during the first half of the 2018 season. Between 2018 and 2019 Reid started 29 games for the Panthers. Reid led the team in tackles last season with 120 tackles and 4 sacks. This was the most tackles and sacks by a Panthers safety in a single season. Panthers re-sign safety Tre Boston: Carolina and Tre Boston agreed to a three-year, $18 million contract extension. I liked this extension a lot. Boston made up for the lack of energy and charisma on the field with Cam Newton being sidelined. Boston started all 16 games for Carolina in 2019 ranking fourth in tackles (76) and tied for first on the team with 3 interceptions (Bradberry and Jackson each had 3). Boston also added 10 pass deflections. Since 2017, Boston has 11 interceptions, tied for second-most among NFL safeties during that span. James Bradberry signs three-year deal with Giants: James Bradberry has been a consistent cornerback for the Panthers that did a good job locking down the talented receivers of the NFC South. Bradberry wanted at least $15 million a year. The Panthers didn't want to give that to him but the Giants did. Bradberry signed a 3-year/$45 million deal with New York including $32 million guaranteed. Dave Gettleman, who is now the GM for the Giants, drafted Bradberry in the second round of the 2016 Draft during his time in Carolina. In 60 games with the Panthers, Bradberry had 8 interceptions and 47 pass breakups. This was a similar situation to Josh Norman's contract negotiation after the 2015 season. It's hard to pay cornerbacks big money because you don't really know their shelf-life. If a cornerback wants big money usually they need to create a lot of turnovers. Bradberry put up good numbers while covering receivers like Julio Jones, Mike Evans and Michael Thomas twice a year. Now in the NFC East, his competition isn't quite as talented as he's used to. The Panthers will most likely find Bradberry's replacement in this year's draft, which is a pretty good one at the cornerback position. Panthers and Teddy Bridgewater agree to deal: This was the nail in the coffin for Cam's future in Carolina. Saints' backup Teddy Bridgewater agreed to a 3-year/$63 million deal with the Panthers. This was announced hours after the news about Cam and his team seeking a trade broke. Bridgewater previously worked alongside Panthers new offensive coordinator Joe Brady in New Orleans. Teddy started his career with Minnesota in 2014 and is entering his 6th season in the NFL. Bridgewater made the Pro Bowl in 2015 after starting all 16 games but suffered a knee injury which derailed his Minnesota tenure. He joined the Saints before the 2018 season serving as Drew Brees' backup. Last season, Bridgewater went 5-0 as a starter for New Orleans when Drew Brees was out due to a thumb injury. Teddy finished the season with 1,384 yards, 9 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. With Bridgewater signed as Carolina's new QB, the Panthers don't have much of a leverage for a Cam Newton deal which may result in the Panthers just releasing their franchise quarterback. Twitter: @MackieGallagher Instagram: @MackieontheRadio            

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