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2011 Panthers Team Preview: Fresh Faces Rivera and Newton Look to Turn Franchise Around

Andrew Laird

Andrew Laird

Andrew Laird is the Senior Soccer Editor for RotoWire. He is also the Head of New Writer Training and a fantasy football and college basketball contributor.

STATE OF THE FRANCHISE

With a 2-14 finish in 2010, the Panthers decided to take the organization in a new direction and fired long-time head coach John Fox, replacing him with former Bears' and Chargers' defensive coordinator Ron Rivera. After hiring Rivera, the Panthers drafted Auburn quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton with the number one overall pick to be the face of the franchise moving forward.

Never mind the fact that the team spent a 2010 second-round draft choice on former Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen, who led the team in passing yards last season. In addition to Newton and Clausen, the Panthers signed Derek Anderson to help the youngsters battle it out for the starting job (or possibly compete for it himself, though it's unlikely he'll win it).

The addition of Newton certainly began the process of rebuilding the team and it was rumored that owner Jerry Richardson would start spending lots of money to make tit better. They lived up to one side of the equation, but the other is a major question mark. After having the opportunity to let DeAngelo Williams go via free agency, the Panthers decided to reward the 28-year old running back, who has played in just 19 games the past two seasons, with a brand new five-year, $43 million contract, with $21 million guaranteed. With Jonathan Stewart and Mike Goodson already coming back, many wondered why the Panthers would give an aging running back so much money. And the debatable spending hardly stopped there.

With four straight seasons of 120+ tackles, Jon Beason was given a new five-year, $50 million contract, with $25 million guaranteed. The contract made Beason, who was second on the team with 121 tackles in 2010, the highest paid inside linebacker in history.

And finally, after leading the Panthers with 11.5 sacks in 2010, Charles Johnson was rewarded with a six-year, $72 million contract, with $30 million guaranteed. So, after being called cheap behind his back, Richardson went out and spent $76 million in guaranteed money for three players that were key components of a team that finished 2-14. Add another $22 million guaranteed for Cam Newton and Richardson almost hits the $100 million mark for four players who likely won't lead the team to the playoffs anytime soon.

The Panthers are already in a tough division with the Falcons, Saints and Buccaneers; add in home games against the Packers and Jaguars, and road games at Chicago, Indianapolis and Houston and it's tough to see the Panthers improving much from last year's debacle.

OFFSEASON MOVES

2011 Draft
Round, Overall, Player

1. (1) Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
Has a strong arm, can do lots with his legs and will compete for the starting job.

3. (65) Terrell McClain, DL, South Florida
Will start along new defensive line.

3. (97) Sione Fua, DT, Stanford
Adds depth to the defensive line.

4. (98) Brandon Hogan, CB, West Virginia
Still recovering from knee surgery, could miss some of the regular season.

5. (132) Kealoha Pilares, WR, Hawaii
Will compete among a crowded list of receivers.

6. (166) Lawrence Wilson, LB, Connecticut
Has plenty of veterans to learn from, but likely won't supplant them.

6. (203) Zachary Williams, C, Washington State
Was drafted to add depth along offensive line, but will miss this season with a torn ACL.

7. (244) Lee Ziemba, OT, Auburn
Also blocked for Newton at Auburn.

Key Acquisitions

Greg Olsen, TE (Bears)
Should start at TE and give Newton or Clausen a big target.

Jeremy Shockey, TE (Saints)
Will likely backup Olsen or see action in two-tight end sets.

Legedu Naanee, WR (Chargers)
Has great size and will compete to start opposite Steve Smith.

Key Losses

Dante Rosario, TE (Broncos)
Leading Panthers tight end receiver in 2010.

Jeff King, TE (Cardinals)
More of a blocking tight end, but did have two touchdowns last year.

John Kasay, K (FA)
Released after 15 seasons with the team.

Depth Chart

QUARTERBACK
Cam Newton
Jimmy Clausen
Derek Anderson
Tony Pike

RUNNING BACK
DeAngelo Williams
Jonathan Stewart
Mike Goodson
Tyrell Sutton
Josh Vaughan

WIDE RECEIVER
Steve Smith
David Gettis
Legedu Naanee
Brandon LaFell
Armanti Edwards
David Clowney
Wallace Wright
Kealoha Pilares
Charly Martin
Trent Guy

TIGHT END
Greg Olsen
Jeremy Shockey
Ben Hartsock
Gary Barnidge

KICKER
Olindo Mare

RETURNER
Mike Goodson
Captain Munnerlyn

TEAM NOTES

WILL CAM BE THE MAN?

After being chosen with the number one pick in the Draft, Cam Newton found himself in a competition for the starting job against Jimmy Clausen, who led the Panthers in passing yards last year. Of course, being the passing leader for a team that went 2-14, while only throwing three touchdowns and nine interceptions in 13 games, isn't much to brag about either. Making things worse, Matt Moore led the team with five passing touchdowns and Brian St. Pierre even got some time. While Clausen is the reigning starter, it's Newton's job to lose.

ANOTHER YEAR OF THE R.B.B.C.

There is absolutely nothing more frustrating in fantasy football than a running back by committee and the Panthers have pretty much played with one for the past three years. DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Goodson make up the pieces of a three-headed monster this year, which is a bit surprising given that Williams was a free agent this offseason. Many people expected the Panthers to let him go thanks to the other backs on the depth chart, but the team re-signed him with a five-year, $43 million contract, with $21 million guaranteed. That is huge money for a 28-year old running back coming off a season where he only played six games, not to mention the presence of Stewart and Goodson. Williams should get the majority of the carries, but they should all see time on the field.

IF PASSES ARE THROWN, WHO WILL CATCH THEM?

Steve Smith has the name recognition, but other than that itís a total crapshoot for the Panthersí receiving corps. David Gettis was supposed to start opposite Smith thanks to his good speed to get downfield, but he tore his ACL early in training camp. Second-year man Brandon LaFell is a possibility, along with newly signed Legedu Naanee, who has great size and strength but hasnít quite put it all together. Wallace Wright, Armanti Edwards, David Clowney and Kealoha Pilares are all possibilities as well. If you go through those names again, you can see why the Panthersí passing game could struggle in 2011.

THE END OF THE KASAY ERA

After 15 years with the organization, which spanned the entire length of the franchise's history, the Panthers decided to cut bait with kicker John Kasay. The 41-year old was 25-29 on field goal attempts last season, including 3-4 from beyond 50 yards, but it wasn't enough to bring him back for another year. The team signed free agent kicker Olindo Mare to a four-year, $12 million contract, abruptly ending Kasay's tenure with the team. While he hasn't officially retired, Kasay remains a free agent.

VALUE METER

Rising: Greg Olsen finally escapes Mike Martzís offense, which rarely utilized the tight end position. He could be the best receiver on the team.

Declining: Steve Smith is getting older and the quarterback questions in Carolina are enough to make fantasy players want to stay away from the 32-year old.

Sleeper: Mike Goodson showed last season that he is a valuable piece and with the injury histories of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, Goodson could be in line for an increased number of carries.

Supersleeper: Kealoha Pilares is deep down the wide receiver depth chart, but with few sure things ahead of him, he could surprise a few people.

IDP Watch

Charles Johnson, DE
After leading the team with 11.5 sacks last year, Johnson agreed to a new $72 million contract, with $30 million guaranteed.

Jon Beason, LB
Racks up tackles enough to land a new $50 million contract, with $25 million guaranteed.

James Anderson, LB
130 tackles last year and four sacks for the middle linebacker.

Team Defense: 21