The irony is so thick you could choke on it. The Carolina Panthers – off to a winless start through four games in 2023 – are desperately seeking help at the wide receiver position. Oh, and in addition to trying to acquire a top tier downfield threat, the team is also reportedly searching for another offensive playmaker out of the backfield to take pressure off of rookie quarterback Bryce Young.
As these needs were being made manifest, players who donned the blue and black at this same time a year ago were going off. Former Panthers’ wide receiver DJ Moore, for example, went for 230 yards and three touchdowns in a Thursday night game with his new team, the Chicago Bears. Moore now has 531 yards and five touchdowns on the season – for Chicago. Meanwhile, former Panthers’ running back Christian McCaffrey – who was supposed to be Carolina’s franchise player – is leading the National Football League (NFL) in rushing for his new team, the San Francisco 49ers. In addition to his 549 yards on the ground, McCaffrey has 141 receiving yards through four games.
Moore and McCaffrey were part of a pair of monumental trades over the course of the past year intended to redefine the Panthers under new owner David Tepper – who purchased the franchise in 2018.
How are those trades working out?
It’s early days, still … but signs point to the Panthers being in the midst of a much tougher rebuild than anyone anticipated. Which is not what fans want to hear considering they have basically been rebuilding for the last five years.
The right to select Young – the controversial No. 1 overall pick in April’s draft – was acquired via a blockbuster trade that sent Moore and four draft picks (including a pair of first rounders) to Chicago. Several of the picks Carolina traded to the Bears were originally obtained in an October 2022 trade which sent McCaffrey to San Francisco – further diluting the value of that deal.
I keep hearing how the Panthers won both of these trades – and maybe history will prove they did. But so far? They have not. So far, these deals have been disastrous.
McCaffrey did not want to leave the Panthers. He wanted to win in Carolina. He was a team captain – and converted $7 million of his 2022 salary into a signing bonus so the team could save money against the cap and, ostensibly, become more competitive. After McCaffrey was traded, Carolina used some of the money it saved to sign running back Miles Sanders to a four-year, $24.5 million deal. How has that paid off? Through four games this season, Sanders has rushed for an anemic 158 yards on 54 carries. He then proceeded to enrage the fan base by complaining about a cascade of boos that (rightfully) rained down on the offense during a recent home loss.
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As for Young, he is currently the worst quarterback in the NFL – with an anemic 24.7 rating through three starts. Not all of that is his fault, obviously – and there is every expectation the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner will improve. Young is an improvisational genius, and assuming the Panthers can find a scheme to match his abilities – and put pieces around him to implement that scheme – the sky is the limit for his potential.
I’m not judging Young after three starts, nor should you.
But is the franchise doing the things it needs to do to develop the 22-year-old Philadelphia native into the starter they hope he will become one day?
Carolina is in its first season under head coach Frank Reich – who was controversially tapped by Tepper in January following the firing of former head coach Matt Rhule on October 10, 2022. Rhule was Tepper’s first choice to rebuild the franchise, but fans now find themselves rebuilding from a failed rebuild. And should Reich wind up getting canned at the end of the season (a distinct possibility at this point), we could be looking at a “forever rebuild” situation – which would further stifle Young’s development.
Reich is bearing the brunt of criticism for Young’s poor performance – and the Panthers’ anemic start. That’s also ironic. Why? Because speaking of “first choices” – Reich reportedly wanted to draft Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud first overall instead of Young but was overruled by Tepper. Stroud ultimately went No. 2 to the Houston Texans.
To say Reich and Young have not meshed from a system perspective is an understatement.
“Reich keeps preaching patience, but there’s nothing left,” Dator added. “Something has to change. It’s nice that Reich thinks it’s all about to click, but it isn’t.”
NFL analyst Jared Feinburg agreed.
“After three weeks of saying be patient, give it time, I have officially given up on Frank Reich as a play-caller as the sequencing, clock management, urgency on offense, and overall scheme have been inconsistent and inefficient overall,” Feinburg wrote this week.
Can Carolina turn it around? Certainly … but the Tepper era trend lines are downright brutal. The Panthers are 29-57 (.337) since Tepper took ownership of the team – failing to post a winning record or reach the playoffs over that time. By contrast, during the five years prior to Tepper’s purchase the Panthers went 54-32-1 (.621) – reaching the playoffs four times and making it to Super Bowl 50.
Tepper also remains part of an ongoing investigation into allegations tied to the Panthers’ botched crony capitalist deal with the state of South Carolina. To great fanfare, the franchise agreed to move its corporate headquarters and practice facility to Rock Hill, South Carolina in 2019 – a deal hailed as the signature economic development of S.C. governor Henry McMaster. The agreement collapsed, though, and in 2022 Tepper’s holding company filed for bankruptcy in Delaware.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven (soon to be eight) children.
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