Analyzing the Carolina Panthers, position by position, ahead of free agency and the NFL draft. Up next: Quarterbacks.
Three things to know
▪ Capitalizing on Cam: The Panthers are well aware that Cam Newton is in his NFL prime, and they want to maximize these years with their franchise quarterback. They drafted Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel to give Newton two quick-release targets, moves that helped Newton improve his completion percentage. But it still wasn’t enough for offensive coordinator Mike Shula and quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey to keep their jobs.
▪ All in the family: Ron Rivera turned to Norv Turner, a coach he’s long known and trusted, to try to get Newton and the Panthers’ offense back on track. Turner is a proponent of the vertical passing game, something Newton excelled in during his first two seasons with Rob Chudzinski – who was running Turner’s offense. Scott Turner, Norv’s son, will coach Newton and the other quarterbacks.
▪ Decision time on D.A.: Derek Anderson, Newton’s backup for each of his seven seasons, is eligible for free agency in March. Anderson did not have a terrific preseason, while Nick Foles’ march to Super Bowl MVP provided a striking example of the importance of an effective backup QB. It will be interesting to see if Rivera and (insert GM name here) bring Anderson back for another season.
On the roster
▪ Cam Newton: It has been a quiet offseason for Newton, who last offseason underwent shoulder surgery that limited him the first month of the season. It will be up to Turner to craft an offense that features zone reads and other run-pass options to limit the pressure Newton faces, while re-introducing the home-run plays that take advantage of Newton’s arm strength.
▪ Derek Anderson: Anderson, who turns 35 in June, has been a key piece of the quarterbacks room, where he has served as something of a teacher and confidante for Newton. He’s only started four games for Carolina (going 2-2), so it’s not like he’s been called on to do much on the field. But with the Panthers starting over with a coordinator and QBs coach, they might want a fresh start behind Newton, too.
▪ Garrett Gilbert: Guessing only the diehard Panthers fans know much about Gilbert, whose father, Gale, was an NFL quarterback for eight seasons and the only player to be a part of five consecutive Super Bowl teams. Gilbert has good size (6-4, 230) and arm strength, and spent the last half of the 2017 season on the active roster. He will be given a shot to win the No. 2 job behind Newton.
Free agent possibilities
▪ Tyrod Taylor: Bills general manager Brandon Beane has already swung a couple of deals with former boss Marty Hurney, although the Panthers likely wouldn’t trade for a backup QB. But Carolina could be interested if the Bills end up cutting Taylor, whose skill set would make him a mini-me version of Newton. But Taylor wants to be a starter, so this seems like a longshot.
▪ Teddy Bridgewater: Turner was in Minnesota and worked Taylor out before the Vikings drafted him in the first round in 2014. It remains to be seen whether Bridgewater will be a free agent (there’s discrepancy over whether the final year of his contract, when he was on the physically unable to perform list for the first six games, will count). And even if he hits the market, Bridgewater – like Taylor – won’t be looking for a place where he sits the bench.
▪ Josh McCown: McCown, who turns 39 in July, was popular in the locker room and front office during his two-year stint in Carolina in 2008-09, which coincided with Hurney’s first stint as GM. McCown had the best stastical season of his 15-year career in 2017 with the Jets. McCown could draw interest from a QB-needy team like Arizona.
▪ Mike White: The Panthers won’t draft a quarterback early (if at all), so keep an eye on late-round or undrafted prospects. White, the Western Kentucky QB who had a good showing at the Senior Bowl, fits the bill. The 6-4, 221-pounder threw for 4,000 yards in his final college season, but there are questions about his arm strength.
▪ Riley Ferguson: The former Butler High standout, who started his career at Tennessee, threw 36 TDs, with only nine INTs, during his final season at Memphis. The 6-4, 210-pound Ferguson needs to get stronger, but it’s easy to envision the Panthers giving a local kid a chance if he goes undrafted.
▪ J.T. Barrett: The winningest quarterback in Ohio State history has game-changing running skills. But scouts aren’t convinced Barrett’s arm will hold up in the NFL. It might be worth taking a chance on Barrett to see if he can play receiver, something Hurney infamously did previously.
The bottom line
For all the speculation about Anderson’s future and potential backups, the Panthers’ 2018 season figures to be defined by how productive the Norv Turner-Cam Newton pairing is. Will a new voice and fresh approach reinvigorate Newton’s career and the Carolina offense?