Carolina Panthers: The 2020 offseason is officially underway

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - SEPTEMBER 08: Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers drops back to pass against the Los Angeles Rams during their game at Bank of America Stadium on September 08, 2019 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - SEPTEMBER 08: Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers drops back to pass against the Los Angeles Rams during their game at Bank of America Stadium on September 08, 2019 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /

Following the conclusion of Super Bowl LIV, the 2020 offseason is officially underway for the Carolina Panthers.

Despite the Carolina Panthers having not played a football game in more than a month, the NFL offseason had yet to be officially underway until the Chiefs won the Super Bowl on Sunday night. Now that the big game is over, the entire league’s focus will shift to what will undoubtedly be a busy offseason. The NFL’s first order of business will be free agency, which opens March 18th. A little more than a month later, the 2020 draft will take place in Las Vegas. For the Panthers, one thing is for sure: their team will look a whole lot different at the conclusion of this offseason.

Carolina will be forced to replace long-time Panthers Luke Kuechly and Greg Olsen this spring.

In mid-January, linebacker Luke Kuechly shocked the NFL world by announcing his retirement after playing just eight seasons. Kuechly, 28, has since expressed interest in returning to the Panthers in a coaching or advisory role; however, his presence both on the field and in the locker room will be incredibly hard to replace. Similarly, the loss of tight end Greg Olsen will hurt as well. Last week Olsen and the Panthers mutually agreed to part ways. The 34-year-old spent the past nine seasons in Carolina, becoming not only a great leader both on and off the field, but also one of the most productive pass-catchers in franchise history.

Options the Panthers could turn to to replace Kuechly include Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons or Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray. Simmons, who is one of the most versatile players in all of college football, could be a great player to build around on defense, although Carolina may have to trade up to get him. As far as replacing Olsen, the Panthers could simply turn the starting job over to Ian Thomas; however, it’s probably more likely that they look for outside options. Potential free-agent replacements include Eric Ebron and Hunter Henry, while Cole Kmet and Brycen Hopkins could be brought in through the draft. No matter who the Panthers find to replace the two vets, they’ll have some big shoes to fill.

Despite earlier reports, it now appears as though the Panthers will hold on to Cam Newton barring any unforeseen circumstances.

Ever since reinjuring his foot during a Week Two loss to Tampa Bay, there has been speculation surrounding Cam Newton’s future in Carolina. When Kyle Allen was winning games and Newton was placed on IR, the talk only intensified. As recent as a few weeks ago NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that the Panthers were expected to trade the former MVP in March. However, more recent reports from CBS Sports indicate that the Panthers will more than likely keep Newton at least through the 2020 campaign.

At this point, even Newton himself believes he’ll be back in Carolina for the upcoming season. In an interview during Super Bowl week, the former first-overall pick announced on “Tiki and Tierney” that after meeting with the Panthers’ owner, GM, and new head coach, he “absolutely” thinks he’ll be back with the team in 2020. He also made it clear in December that he prefers to be with the Panthers throughout the remainder of his career. If Newton can return healthy and be even a shade of his former self, he’ll be well worth the $21.1 million he’s due in 2020.

Assuming Newton does in fact return in 2020, Carolina’s top priority this offseason should be on the offensive line and defense.

If Newton does indeed return for the upcoming season, he will make the team’s immediate future much more clear. Having him back would allow the Panthers to address other areas of concern, namely the offensive line and defense. Carolina was tied for the most sacks allowed in 2019, and was one of the worst in short-yardage rushing situations. With that being said, the offensive line is in clear need of some upgrades. Greg Little and Dennis Daley showed potential during their rookie years, but it remains to be seen whether or not they can be long-term answers on the left side. If the Panthers want to shore up the position through the draft, Georgia’s Andrew Thomas could be a potential target with the seventh pick. If Thomas isn’t available, then Jedrick Wills or Tristan Wirfs could also be options.

On the defensive side of the ball, Carolina is currently facing some huge decisions. Defensive backs James Bradberry and Tre Boston are both free agents, Eric Reid and Donte Jackson are coming off of poor seasons, and 2019 sack leader Mario Addison will be looking for a new contract. That’s not to mention that they still need to replace Kuechly in the middle. Because of all the potential holes, the Panthers could literally draft any position on defense and not go wrong. If they want to shore up what was a pitiful run defense this past season, then defensive tackles Derrick Brown or Javon Kinlaw would be sensible picks. If they want a ball-hawking safety, LSU’s Grant Delpit would be a great addition. If they want to replace Kuechly with an elite prospect, then the aforementioned Simmons or Murray could be potential fits.

Regardless of what happens or who the Panthers pick up this offseason, the roster is going to be drastically different come September. Gone is Ron Rivera, gone is Jerry Richardson, and obviously Kuechly and Olsen are now gone as well. The organization is clearly going in a new direction with Matt Rhule and David Tepper at the helm, and it should be exciting to watch. So before you throw your phone through a window or burn your favorite jersey, sit back and give the new ownership a chance. Who knows, the new direction may be just what the franchise needs.