As we navigate our way through the weirdest offseason in Carolina Panthers history, everyone has questions. I recently asked fans to send me some of theirs through Twitter or email, and will attempt to briefly answer eight of them in the Observer’s latest edition of the Panthers mailbag:
Q: Will Julius Peppers play in 2018?
A: My guess is yes – a source close to Peppers indicates the star defensive end is leaning toward playing but doesn’t want to commit to it yet.
Peppers recently had shoulder surgery. From what I understand, he had been playing with that injury for quite awhile. Peppers really gets along with Eric Washington, recently promoted from Panthers defensive-line coach to defensive coordinator. At 38, Peppers tied for the team lead with 11 sacks last season as a part-time player.
One thing seems certain: He won’t go elsewhere. Peppers will either play for Carolina or retire. I bet he plays, but this one remains up in the air.
Q: Is Luke Kuechly’s latest shoulder surgery something to be concerned about?
A: No. Kuechly has rehabbed his way through a torn labrum before, following the Super Bowl season. He played Week 1 in 2016, and I certainly expect him to play in Week 1 in 2018. Now if this was another concussion, of course, that would be a different story.
Q: When will the investigation into owner Jerry Richardson’s alleged sexual misconduct finish?
A: This one will take a lot longer than the Marty Hurney investigation, which wrapped up Friday with Hurney being reinstated to his job as interim general manager (and as the favorite to become the permanent GM). An independent team led by renowned attorney and investigator Mary Jo White has been in Charlotte doing interviews about Richardson and does not appear close to being finished (although those investigators do not hold subpoena power, so they can’t force anyone to talk).
I would guess it will be another month – and perhaps more – before we hear the result of this one. The ultimate punishment the NFL could have meted out is already off the table, as Richardson has announced his intention to sell the team.
Q: Will Tina Becker ever speak to the media?
A: The mysterious Becker was promoted by Richardson to run day-to-day team operations in January. The only thing most people remember about Becker is she was once a cheerleader for the team before rising through the ranks. That’s partly because the team hasn’t allowed her to be interviewed by basically anybody other than the oh-so-friendly team website. But that’s likely to change before long, as Becker takes a more public role.
Q: Will the team have a new owner by the time the 2018 season starts in September?
A: I think they will, and maybe much sooner than that. Things are percolating behind the scenes on many fronts.
Q: Why did the Panthers raise ticket prices again?
A: Because they could.
Well, there’s more to it than that, and the Panthers’ ticket prices will remain in the middle of the NFL range even after this latest increase. But due to the ingenuity of Max Muhleman’s permanent-seat license concept, the Panthers never have to be too worried about season-ticket holders not renewing en masse after a modest price increase.
Q: What are the odds on the next Panthers’ majority owner being local vs. one who is from out of town?
A: I would think there’s an 85 percent chance of the majority owner living outside of Charlotte. Most of the billionaires in the U.S. live outside Charlotte, after all.
South Carolina businessman Ben Navarro is the latest name to surface, but there are undoubtedly a number of other rich guys who could make a move (Paul Tudor Jones is another). I wouldn’t be surprised if the team draws eight to 12 somewhat serious bids.
Q: What are the odds that the Panthers actually build a new stadium near Carowinds or anywhere else in the region?
A: About 10 percent. The NFL doesn’t want or need the Panthers to go anywhere. The stadium is plenty good enough and comes with the team. The new owner can find new revenue streams inside that stadium by getting some of the current operations staff out of the stadium and into a separate office building, turning some of that space into new suites and squeezing the city and state for more upgrades.
Q: Who is the player the Panthers would most like to keep but will lose in the offseason?
A: Guard Andrew Norwell. He’s become very valuable, but you can’t pay everyone on an NFL offensive line and the Panthers already have three high-priced linemen (the Kalil brothers and guard Trai Turner). Expect Norwell to get big money elsewhere.
Scott Fowler: 704-358-5140, @scott_fowler