The Carolina Panthers word of the week is “evaluate.”
“We’re all being evaluated,” said head coach Ron Rivera on Monday, a day after the Panthers’ seventh straight loss. “We’re going to be evaluated for this last game, and we’ll be evaluated for the season.”
Rivera said he knows he’s being evaluated by first-year owner David Tepper. But Rivera said so far, the process is one he has appreciated.
“We’ve sat down, we’ve talked a lot about going forward and the best way to approach things, the best things that you can do in a leadership position,” Rivera said. “I think that’s valuable, when you can have an owner who is going to understand, and look at things and see things and work things out.”
Rivera and his staff are also doing some evaluating of their own, as they gauge team needs for the upcoming free agency period and NFL draft and free agency period. Younger players will likely get more opportunities in the Panthers’ season finale on Sunday at New Orleans.
That might mean players such as running back Christian McCaffrey, who has played 96.95 percent of the Panthers’ offensive snaps this season, and linebacker Luke Kuechly (97.67 percent of defensive snaps) could get some rest.
“What we have to do is we have to be smart with these guys going forward,” Rivera said. “We also have to get an opportunity to evaluate (other players) ...
“You go into Week 17 obviously trying to win. But at the same time, we have to be smart. We have to be realistic. Be honest.”
Backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke is being evaluated, too, but not in the way he originally hoped after his first career NFL start on Sunday.
Heinicke wanted to put forth a body of work that could lead to him getting the long-term backup job in Carolina. But instead, he got an MRI on his left elbow on Monday.
And the Panthers are evaluating their backup-to-the-backup plan. Third-string rookie quarterback Kyle Allen is on the active roster, but there is nobody behind him.
If Heinicke can’t play Sunday at New Orleans, it’s likely the team would either have to go out and sign somebody or run with Allen and pray for the best.
They want to avoid re-activating an injured Cam Newton, Rivera said. But otherwise, he said, it’s too early to know what the plan will be.
“We’ll see. I don’t want to get into those hypotheticals yet,” he said. “I really won’t have a better feel until later today or probably a good feel of it by Wednesday for sure.”