The Carolina Panthers didnt trade Jeff Otah so he could get a fresh start.
They traded Otah so they could get a fresh start.
As a football player, Otah was little more than a rumor. He was a guy who formerly played and a guy who might someday play. He was not a guy who played.
Otah hurt his left knee late in 2009 and finished the past three seasons on injured reserve. He has played four games in two seasons.
The other offensive tackles would work. Otah would watch them work. Yet they knew that if he decided to return, the starting job opposite Jordan Gross would be his.
The Panthers had to make a choice. Do they hang onto Otah, who is 6-foot-6 and 350 pounds and whose talent is almost as big as he is? Do they allow themselves to believe that this is the week, month, season or decade hell return?
Or do they finally stop wishing and cut him loose?
Carolina reluctantly chose the latter and traded Otah to the New York Jets on Monday for a lowly seventh-round pick.
A Panthers source said they would not have made the deal if there had not been a second trade. They sent a seventh-round pick to Oakland for receiver Louis Murphy.
The scorecard: Otah is 26, Murphy 25. Otah is always injured, Murphy is often injured. Otah was a star. Murphy is a player with the potential to be.
Murphy is 6-2, weighs 200 pounds and once ran a sub 4.4-second 40-yard dash.
The Panthers usually keep five or six wide receivers. Here are eight presently on the roster: Steve Smith; Brandon LaFell; David Gettis; rookie return specialist Joe Adams; slot receiver Kealoha Pilares; Seyi Ajirotutu; Armanti Edwards and Murphy.
I called Otah a star. Many Panthers fans will claim thats not true. They forget how effective he was his first two seasons.
Had Otah played the more publicized and challenging left tackle, instead of right tackle, he might have made the Pro Bowl. He was a superior run blocker and an athlete, and he was enormous.
When he stands next to Gross, a stranger might ask Otah, Whos your little friend?
The four biggest men Ive ever stood next to: Andre the Giant, Shaquille ONeal, Mel Turpin and Otah.
Some linemen are fat. Despite carrying 350 pounds, Otah wasnt. He was large. Eclipse tonight? No. Otah is standing between the moon and you.
Otahs left knee, however, does not know the difference between fat and large.
As popular as it is to call Otah a malingerer, we dont know if he could have played. The Panthers dont know.
Heres what we know: Otah will be a free agent after the season. So will running back Jonathan Stewart. Each was selected in the first round of the 2008 draft (Stewart 13th, Otah 19th). Signing Stewart is a priority. Signing Otah was not, and he almost certainly would have walked after the season.
He left early. If change convinces Otah that his knee is sound enough to play, he will start for the Jets, whom the Panthers will play in an exhibition on Aug. 26.
The Panthers are familiar with Otahs talent. They know he could be a star. They might even expect him to be.
While he heads north, many of his former teammates appear at rookie camp in Charlotte. On Tuesday, those rookies are joined by at least three veteran stars coming off injuries Jon Beason, Thomas Davis and Charles Johnson.
Like management, coaches and teammates, they believe this is the season for which theyve been waiting.
But watching wont get them where they want to go. They have to play. They have to want to play.