If you’re a Carolina Panthers fan, do you have a clear idea of your favorite team’s plan to return to the postseason?
Because as an outsider Carolina looks like a franchise that has been adrift since David Tepper bought the team four years ago, and it seems to have gotten worse since Matt Rhule became head coach in 2020.
The Panthers have taken over Baker Mayfield from the Browns on Wednesday, a transaction that had been going on for months and was finally completed after Mayfield agreed to cut his salary by about $3.5 million and Cleveland agreed to pay more than half of what was left.
Assuming Mayfield wins the job, he will be the seventh starting quarterback the Panthers have had during Tepper’s tenure, and as of now, there’s no guarantee Mayfield will remain the starter in 2023.
Let’s not forget that at one point last year, Tepper and Carolina were optimistic about the acquisition of Deshaun Watson.
When Tepper took over, Cam Newton was the face of the franchise. After an injury in 2019 caused him to miss most of the season, the Panthers unceremoniously cut Newton off and bid farewell to longtime head coach Ron Rivera.
Rhule was hired from Baylor and had only one season of NFL coaching experience. General manager Marty Hurney was fired the following year and replaced by Scott Fitterer, who had spent his career climbing the front office ranks at Seattle.
Under Rhule, Carolina has gone 5-11 and 5-12 as she works on what can now be called a carousel of veteran quarterbacks. Those records have led the Panthers to have a top-eight draw the following springs, but they haven’t used either on a quarterback.
The 2022 QB class may not have been considered strong, but Mac Jones and Justin Fields were both on the board in 2021 when the Panthers were on the clock. Rhule is considered an offensive coach. He didn’t think it was appropriate to draw and develop a player in that position?
And since we’re talking about a carousel and Rhule is doing what he can to keep his job, last season he fired his offensive coordinator, Joe Brady, and now Ben has McAdoo in that role.
(McAdoo was by the way not exactly a Mayfield fan when he entered the NFL in 2018† Besides, he wasn’t big for Sam Darnold, the quarterback the Panthers bought last year. As of now, McAdoo is tasked with coaching both.)
In less than 30 months as head coach, Rhule has signed Teddy Bridgewater as a free agent for 2020; he then traded second-, fourth- and sixth-round picks for Darnold in 2021; grabbed Darnold’s fifth year guaranteed option; swapped out Bridgewater; signed Matt Barkley and re-signed Newton; put Darnold on the bench for PJ Walker midway through last season; had Walker and Newton platoon; traded in for drafting Matt Corral in this year’s third round; and has now taken over Mayfield.
During their first two years together, Rhule and Fitterer did little to improve a leaky line of attack, so whoever led the charge, they weren’t in the best position to succeed. Carolina used this year’s sixth pick tackle Ikem Ekwonu of the state of North Carolina and signed free-agent guard Austin Corbett, so minimal attention is paid to the line†
Outside of the football field, Tepper doesn’t make many friends either. Earlier this year, he walked away from a development in Rock Hill, SC that would have been the Panthers’ new team headquarters and practice facility — after ground had already broken for the project — and then the company he founded for the project. , GT Real Estate, filed for bankruptcy.
If you suspected that the whole ordeal is now making its way through the justice system, you’d be right.
Meanwhile, Charlotte FC, the MLS club that owns Tepper and is currently in its inaugural season, fired its head coach just 14 games into the campaign. There has also been significant turnover in the executive ranks of Tepper Sports & Entertainment, the umbrella group for many of the billionaire’s sports ventures.
Early in his time as owner of the New England Patriots, Robert Kraft was mocked by local media for being too hands-on. There was a story that he attended Syracuse’s Tebucky Jones preliminary training in 1998 with a stopwatch in hand, and Bill Parcells’ infamous “if they want you to cook dinner, at least they should let you shop for some off the grocery line.” lingered after he left in 1997.
But Kraft learned: the football team should be run by football people.
Maybe Tepper picked the wrong soccer people on his first try. It happens. Hopefully, if he starts again after 2022, he will know enough to trust the people he hires to run the football side.
There really are no shortcuts to NFL glory. Tepper’s bumpy start and Rhule’s constant changes are historically not the road to playoff wins and a gleaming Lombardi trophy.
Since they’re likely to welcome another starting quarterback, the Pathers just don’t seem to have a plan right now. They just look lost.