The Carolina Panthers had a crazy season from start to finish. The team started terribly, fired its head coach, traded superstars away, and then almost snuck into the playoffs. Four quarterbacks had at least one start, and Carolina found some talented players that could be building blocks going into the future.
The questions remain: Do the Panthers need a complete tear-down and rebuild? Or are they a few pieces and a head coach away from being a playoff team? That will be determined this off-season but let’s look at Carolina’s best players from this past season, their two most significant needs, and what their 2024 Super Bowl Odds may look like.
Panthers’ Best Players to Build Around
RB D’Onta Foreman
Foreman came into the season as the No. 3 running back. When Christian McCaffrey got traded, Chubba Hubbard took over the starter role. A few missed games due to injury for Hubbard and Foreman’s tough running earned him the starting role. Foreman had his best season as a pro, playing in all 17 games, rushing for 904 yards, and averaging 4.5 yards per carry.
The exciting thing about Foreman is he is a veteran playing in his fifth NFL season. Yet because of injury and lack of opportunity, he only has 443 career carries, with 203 of them coming this season. He has plenty of life left, even for a player going to his sixth NFL season at 27 years old. Carolina would be wise to re-sign him as his contract is expired. He is, at a minimum, a high-caliber power back.
OT Ikem Ekwonu
The Panthers’ first-round pick at offensive tackle out of NC State had a strong rookie year. Of course, there were ups and downs, but Ekwonu did play every offensive snap for the Panthers. As he continues to grow as a player, if he can stay healthy as he did this past season, Carolina may have their LT position locked down for the next decade.
DE Brian Burns
Tied for eighth in the NFL with 12.5 sacks, Burns had the best year of his NFL career. Burns has one year left on his contract and another season like he just had, and he could earn himself a $20 million yearly contract.
LB Shaq Thompson
The Panthers’ star linebacker had a fantastic season, even according to his standards. While most have become accustomed to Thompson having 100+ tackles, his total of 135 this season was a career-high. Expect Thompson to ball out again next year with one year left on his contract.
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Carolina Panthers Offseason Needs
The Panthers’ roster construction is solid but has a few crucial weaknesses that need to be addressed this offseason. Part of the Panthers’ problem is their lack of 2023 cap space, which currently sits at only about $2 million.
The Panthers, more than anything, need a franchise quarterback. Any successful NFL franchise has a good quarterback. There are very few, if any, teams that are so good that it doesn’t matter who is at quarterback. With good options in the draft and potentially a trade candidate/free-agent veteran, it will be a matter of Carolina making the right choice.
The Panthers need a coach to lead them into the future. It will be important that the coach is a talent developer. While he will also need to have a strong relationship with whoever the quarterback is. The Panthers are interviewing many candidates, and there are some big names who would likely do well in Carolina.
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Offseason Effect on Panthers Super Bowl Odds
How much Carolina improves as a team this off-season will affect their Super Bowl odds next season. What will the Panthers’ Super Bowl Odds in NC next season be according to the top online sports betting apps? Using the 2022 pre-season Super Bowl Odds (120-to-1) as a template, our projections are based on the Panthers’ potential off-season grade.
Offseason Grade A | Odds guess: +3000
To get an A grade, the Panthers need a solid quarterback and a head coach that is a homerun hire. For example, say Carolina hires Jim Harbaugh — a proven coach that has taken a team to the Super Bowl — and lands a proven veteran quarterback like Derek Carr. If the Panthers do that and have a good draft that adds solid depth pieces and another offensive weapon, that would get them an A grade for the off-season.
Offseason Grade C | Odds guess: +9000
If the Panthers miss on the quarterback or the head coach, they’ll get a C. If Carolina hires a stud head coach but rolls with Sam Darnold at quarterback, that would leave something to be desired.
Offseason Grade F | Odds guess: 120-to-1
An F grade for the offseason would be warranted if Carolina hires a lousy head coach and does not find a quarterback while letting Darnold walk. There is a scenario in which the Panthers let Darnold leave, don’t get a veteran quarterback, and end up with the fourth or fifth-ranked rookie quarterback.
These projections are a wide range of where Carolina could end up. I think that is fair with a team that is currently without a quarterback or a coach. If Carolina finds the perfect coach and quarterback, it is not crazy to think Carolina could be in the top half of NFL teams for next season’s Super Bowl odds.
In contrast, the season could be a disaster if Carolina rolls into next season with Sam Darnold at quarterback and a poor coaching hire. One thing is for sure: the NFC South is up for grabs, but can Carolina take advantage of their weak division?
AP Photo/Chris O’Meara