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In My Opinion

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Carolina Panthers did the right thing by trading Jon Beason to the New York Giants

Scott Fowler is a national award-winning sports columnist for The Charlotte Observer.

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Poll: Do you think the Jon Beason trade is a good move for the Carolina Panthers?

Jon Beason – traded for a late-round draft choice?! Shipped out for a price that is pennies on the dollar compared to what the Panthers had paid him the past couple of years?

Yes. A sudden deal with the New York Giants was finalized Friday after Beason passed a physical. The Panthers will get a late-round draft choice and a bit of cap relief in return, but that’s not much for a three-time Pro Bowl linebacker if you still think he can play.

Obviously, the Panthers do not.

This would have all seemed inconceivable a little more than two years ago. In 2010, Beason was a cornerstone of the Panthers – a side-to-side linebacker who never came off the field and saw his No.52 jersey being worn by thousands of fans in his home stadium.

A first-round draft choice in 2007, Beason was Luke Kuechly before Luke Kuechly. Few blinked when general manager Marty Hurney signed Beason to a five-year, $51.5 million contract extension in 2011.

But now the sad truth is that the Panthers have been better on defense the past two years when Beason is not playing. Once Kuechly switched to middle linebacker early in the 2012 season following a Beason injury, they got better. Once Chase Blackburn was inserted into the starting lineup Sept.22 against the Giants and Beason was benched, the Panthers got way better, shutting out the Giants 38-0.

Ironically, it is the 0-4 Giants who would soon decide they wanted Beason. And Beason wanted out when he realized the Panthers planned to make the move with Blackburn a permanent one. The player nicknamed “The Beast” wanted no part of the bench.

Carolina was likely going to release Beason after this season anyway. The handwriting was on that wall. So general manager Dave Gettleman negotiated what would have seemed like a completely lowball offer not long ago.

In the first two games of 2013, though, Beason was a shadow of his former self, especially in pass coverage. He had nowhere near his old speed. He missed tackles. He gave up one pass completion after another, especially against Buffalo.

A torn Achilles in 2011 and knee and shoulder issues in 2012 had limited him to five games in those seasons, and it was obvious the knee in particular still gave Beason problems. The shoulder doesn’t bother him anymore – he did make a few good stops filling holes in run defense – but a linebacker without the ability to run is a compromised linebacker.

As Beason told a group of us reporters in August: “The wings are never an issue. It’s the wheels that get you.”

Beason, 28, had been marginalized in Charlotte, and he’s a prideful player who couldn’t stand that. He was no longer a team captain this year. Now he had been turned into a part-time player. Against the Giants, in that 38-0 win, he played one snap. Even in the first two games, the Panthers took him out in obvious passing situations, leaving Kuechly and Thomas Davis as the two linebackers.

Perhaps Beason can play middle linebacker for those same Giants. That’s the spot Beason is best suited for; he’s just not as good at it as Kuechly. His coverage liabilities won’t be as exposed there as he works himself back into the game.

Another telling thing Beason said in August: “We never play healthy. Every Sunday you’ve got something going on. ... Sometimes that pain is the new normal. You just kind of get used to it.”

But the Panthers and Beason didn’t quite get used to it. And the “new normal” Beason just wasn’t quite good enough.

I will miss No.52 – a standup guy in the locker room and a fun guy to talk with, always.

But I also understand why Carolina traded him. He no longer was doing the team much good on the field. In a bottom-line business, Beason – because his body let him down – was no longer producing.

Let’s all hope Beason does well with the Giants and has a long career. But don’t disagree with the Panthers on this: Beason’s time in Charlotte had run out.

Fowler: sfowler@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @scott_fowler
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