Just when you thought the Carolina Panthers couldn’t get any weirder….
How many times have you thought or said something like that in the past two months?
I have watched the Panthers grow up from the day they were born, and this phase of the franchise’s life seems like the one a lot of young adults go through in their early 20s.
Nothing seems certain. Potential trouble lurks around many corners, as does opportunity.
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This is not the darkest time in Panthers history. That occurred from late 1999 to early 2001, when former wide receiver Rae Carruth was convicted of conspiring to murder his pregnant girlfriend in a trial that ran for much of an NFL season. While that violently sad story was unfolding, former Carolina running back Fred Lane -- who at that point was the Panthers’ leading rusher all-time -- was shot and killed in Charlotte by his estranged wife in 2000.
But while not the darkest time, this surely is the weirdest. The Panthers are for sale. Jerry Richardson, the team owner, is under NFL investigation for workplace misconduct. Richardson was alleged on Dec. 17th in a Sports Illustrated story to have engaged in all sorts of inappropriate conduct with his female employees, and he announced he would be selling the team about seven hours after that blockbuster story was published.
In related news, the Panthers -- who will play their 24th NFL season in 2018 -- don’t know where they want to call home long-term as of yet.
That’s not uncommon for a 24-year-old, but quite disconcerting for all those people who spent their hard-earned money to put them through college (that’s you, PSL holders).
While not the darkest time in Panthers history, this is certainly the weirdest.
Maybe the Panthers will stay forever in Charlotte. Maybe they will even stay in exactly the same stadium for awhile. I hope and ultimately think both those things will happen, but we will not know for sure until a new ownership group emerges and unveils its plan.
And then on Tuesday, interim (and past, and possibly future) Panthers general manager Marty Hurney was placed on paid administrative leave by the Panthers after his ex-wife accused him of harassment last week.
Jeanne Hurney told the Observer Tuesday she had withdrawn her complaint -- her attorney also confirmed that fact. One of Hurney’s attorneys also said Jeanne Hurney's allegations were “complete fiction.” But again, the Panthers news of the day on Tuesday was weird in a way you never could have predicted.
We’ve had a lot of days like that stretching back in the past year -- Richardson firing GM Dave Gettleman on the eve of the Panthers’ 2017 training camp; team president Danny Morrison mysteriously resigning; Tina Becker even more mysteriously becoming the team’s chief operating officer as Richardson stepped away from the team.
For all that uncertainty, we do know a few things.
We know Ron Rivera will coach the Panthers again in 2018 and for the foreseeable future after that, and that quarterback Cam Newton will direct the offense and linebacker Luke Kuechly the defense. We know Rivera will have three new coordinators in 2018 – offense, defense and special teams – and will also have to carefully manage the last football season for both center Ryan Kalil and linebacker Thomas Davis (and possibly Julius Peppers, too, if he returns for another season at age 38).
We know the Panthers will pick No. 24 in April’s NFL draft and will look for more speed at both wide receiver and defensive back. We know they will play at least the 2018 season in Bank of America Stadium.
Beyond that, though, who knows? In much the same way as American politics has never seemed weirder than it is right now, the Panthers live in their own bizarre world that seems to take another twist every day.
Only one thing is for certain – we have just begun an offseason that will be unlike any the team has ever experienced.