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April 29, 2014

Storify: Carolina Panthers brass talks NFL draft

The Carolina Panthers hold an NFL draft preview news conference featuring general manager Dave Gettleman and head coach Ron Rivera. The highlights from Twitter:



Posted by Observer Sports on April 29, 2014 at 12:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

April 28, 2014

Newton, Kuechly among top 50 in player merchandise sales

The two cornerstones of the Panthers organization are among the top 50 NFL players in merchandise sales for the 2013-2014 season.

Quarterback Cam Newton checks in at No. 27 on the list while middle linebacker Luke Kuechly is ranked No. 50, according to the NFL Players Association.

The rankings are based on total overall sales of NFL Players Inc. licensed merchandise from March 1, 2013 to Feb. 28, 2014. Those items include Nike jerseys, Fathead, Fanatics and Macfarlane Toys, among other licensees.

Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson tops the list, and the Super Bowl-winning quarterback is just in front of Denver’s Peyton Manning. Newton is the 13th-ranked quarterback on the list.

Houston defensive end J.J. Watt is the highest-ranked defended on the list at No. 11, and Kuechly is one of just eight defensive players in the top 50.

One interesting note from the NFLPA press release is a new licensing agreement with New Era. The headwear line will begin producing player-identified advertising and promotion on hats.

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on April 28, 2014 at 11:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Should the Panthers trade up in this year's draft?

Before I started my mock draft that ran in Sunday’s paper, I had no clue what player I would send to the Panthers. After completing the Saints pick at No. 27, I still didn’t know.

Kelvin Benjamin makes sense at 28, but the overwhelming thought I had as I went from the teens into the 20s and finally to 28 was, should the Panthers trade up?

Here’s the issue: The Panthers top two needs are offensive tackle and wide receiver. You can get talented guys at both positions in this draft because it’s deep, but can you get top-tier talent in the first round at either position?

That’s a worry for the Panthers. Tackles Greg Robinson and Jake Matthews are the top two tackles, and they’ll be gone by the seventh pick. But some mock drafts have Taylor Lewan falling (the Observer had him at 17 to the Ravens) and tackle Zack Martin should be gone by 20 (he’s at 19 to the Dolphins).

Then there are the wide receivers. Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans are in a class all their own and should be taken in the top 10. But Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandin Cooks could be there in the late-teens to early-20s.

When it comes to first-round tackle, an NFL GM must ask himself if that player, who inevitably will start on the right side of the line, can at some point be a left tackle. It appears the Panthers are bearish on the remaining tackles at the end of the first round and may use a second- or third-round pick on that position.

While Benjamin could eventually be the player teams envision with his combination of size, strength and speed, he’s still raw with only two years of major college football experience. There’s no guarantee he’ll have an immediate impact like Vikings’ Cordarrelle Patterson, who had one year of major college football experience and was picked 29th in last year’s draft.

So what are the trade options for Carolina to ensure a top-tier player at one of the two positions? Going through the draft, the team that stood out the most to me was Pittsburgh at No. 15. The Steelers need a cornerback, receiver and tackle, but if corner is their top need, they can go down to the late-20s and pick up a guy like TCU’s Jason Verrett or Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller.

A trade from 28 to 15 would require the Panthers giving up something obviously. A look at recent history shows the Panthers would probably have to give up a third-round pick (and maybe a later round since Carolina picks since it would be a late third-rounder) in order to move up 13 spots.

Last year the 49ers traded their 31st overall pick and the third-round pick (74th overall, and actually the Panthers’ pick before trading it away) to the Cowboys for Dallas’ 18th overall selection. San Francisco selected safety Eric Reed.

In 2012 the Patriots traded their 27th overall pick and the third-round selection (93rd overall) to the Bengals for Cincinnati’s 21st overall selection. New England turned that pick into defensive end Chandler Jones.

It should be noted it's not easy to give up draft picks. If your team's goal is the have a strong foundation with its key parts and build around that foundation through the draft--which has been the Panthers' plan--then giving up draft picks doesn't exactly jive with that.

There's no indication yet the Panthers are willing to trade up, according to a source, and this weekend it was re-emphasized the team will take the best player available. But that player could be a lot better if the Panthers can execute a trade.

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on April 28, 2014 at 09:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (27)

April 23, 2014

Mel Kiper: Wideout trumps tackle for Panthers in NFL draft

Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman's love of big guys has been well established.

The Panthers need a couple of big guys, specifically offensive tackles.

But they also need wide receivers, and that's the direction ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. expects the Panthers to go when they pick 28th overall in next month's draft.

Receiver and tackle are two of the deepest positions in the draft.

But the best tackles -- Greg Robinson, Jake Matthews, Taylor Lewan and Zack Martin -- likely will be gone when the Panthers pick in the first round. And Kiper isn't crazy about the second-tier selections, although he had the Panthers taking Virginia's Morgan Moses in his mock draft last week.

"I just don't see a tackle I'm excited about," Kiper said during a conference call with reporters Wednesday. "Morgan Moses from Virginia is a left tackle. I think he plays a little too high. He needs to bend better. He did get some improvement in that area late. I don't see anybody at 28 from an offensive tackle standpoint that would excite me over a wide receiver. And they desperately need that."

The Panthers saw longtime left tackle Jordan Gross retire during the offseason, and they lost their top four receivers. They cut franchise receiver leader Steve Smith and had three others wideouts leave in free agency -- Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn Jr. and Domenik Hixon.

"They haven't had great wide receiver play, even with Steve Smith. Steve Smith was a heck of a player. Who was the other guy? Brandon LaFell dropped a lot of balls. They never had consistency opposite Smith," Kiper said.

"So it's not like this team had a great receiving corps, or a good receiving corps, anyway. Now they need multiple receivers. They've added some pieces in terms of (Jason) Avant and guys like that, and (Jerricho) Cotchery.

"But I think when you look at Carolina right now, the receiver's going to trump the offensive tackle, unless you're shocked and a Zack Martin (drops). But that's not going to happen. So I would say a wide receiver."

Kiper mentioned three wideouts he believes will be available when the Panthers are on the board -- Indiana's Cody Latimer, Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews and Fresno State's Davante Adams, who led all major-college receivers with 131 catches last season.

The Panthers have met with Latimer and Matthews, the SEC's all-time receiving leader.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on April 23, 2014 at 02:27 PM | Permalink | Comments (39)

Former Panthers QB Clausen looking for second chance

There’s nothing Jimmy Clausen can do about being on the wrong side of Panthers’ history, but now he’s looking for a fresh start.

The former Notre Dame quarterback picked in the second round of the 2010 draft was the starter for Carolina’s 2-14 season. He then became the No. 3 quarterback for his final three years in Carolina behind Cam Newton and Derek Anderson.

After shoulder surgery last season, Clausen is a free agent and won’t be back with the Panthers. In an interview with USA TODAY, Clausen said he wants another opportunity.

"The only thing I can ask for is an opportunity — a legit opportunity to compete to be a No. 2 and hopefully work my way up,” Clausen said.

Clausen’s career statistics aren’t dazzling. In 13 appearances he had 1,558 passing yards, three touchdowns, nine interceptions, a 52.5 completion percentage and took 33 sacks.

Of course, Clausen wasn’t in the best of situations with a lame duck Panthers’ season, and his time with the Panthers was done when Carolina selected Newton with the No. 1 overall pick in 2011.

The Panthers didn’t intend on keeping Clausen, 26, on the final roster after the preseason, but they wanted him to play well in the final preseason game so he could potentially be a trade asset. Instead, Clausen tore the labrum in his right shoulder in that game and was placed on injured reserve for the season.

“I'm still really young," Clausen said. “I'm going into my fifth year in the league. I feel great. This is probably right now the healthiest I've been since my junior year in college, to be honest with you.”

It’s likely Clausen finds a landing spot at some team’s training camp. He’s one of the top remaining free-agent quarterbacks, has starter’s experience and says his arm is at 95 percent.

Had he been healthy last season, who’s to say Clausen wouldn’t have gotten a chance with a team in the regular season? Buffalo, Oakland and Minnesota each tried out three different quarterbacks with little success, and the Bills brought up Thad Lewis from the practice squad to start five games (Jeff Tuel started in one).

If Clausen can demonstrate his arm is healthy enough, he could find spot on a camp roster. But from his quotes, he doesn’t seem to have any illusions about where he stands among NFL quarterbacks.

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on April 23, 2014 at 11:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

April 22, 2014

Cam Newton on Steve Smith, his ankle, more

Cam Newton addressed the media Tuesday.

Posted by Observer Sports on April 22, 2014 at 10:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

April 11, 2014

Panthers sign former St. Augustine's DE Alex Hall

After one big year in Canada, Alex Hall is coming back to North Carolina.

The former standout at Raleigh's St. Augustine's College signed with the Panthers on Friday afternoon after spending the past two seasons in the Canadian Football Leauge. 

Hall, 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, finished second in the CFL last season with 16 sacks for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Tied for St. Augustine's all-time lead in career sacks, Hall was drafted by the Browns in the seventh round of the 2008 draft. He played in 32 NFL games between 2008-2010 for the Browns and Giants.

Hall will come in and compete with Wes Horton and Frank Alexander for backup roles at defensive end. Mario Addison is the team's primary backup behind Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy.

--Jonathan Jones


Posted by Observer Sports on April 11, 2014 at 04:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (17)

April 10, 2014

Panthers sign TE Ed Dickson to one-year deal

Without a true No. 1 receiver and with no guarantee they'll get one in next month's draft, the Panthers are expected to play more two-tight end sets in 2014.

They took an important step in that direction Thursday by acquiring another pass-catching tight end.

The Panthers signed former Baltimore tight end Ed Dickson to a one-year contract, the team announced. Dickson, 26, agreed to a veteran minimum deal worth $795,000, including a $65,000 signing bonus, according to a league source.

Dickson started 14 games last season after the Ravens lost starting tight end Dennis Pitta to a hip injury for much of the year. Dickson had 25 receptions for 272 yards and one touchdown, and was victimized by several dropped passes at the beginning of the season.

But the former third-round pick from Oregon has shown he's capable of being a consistent receiving threat. In 2011 during his second season, Dickson pulled down 54 passes for 528 yards and five touchdowns.

Dickson, who is 6-4 and 244 pounds with good speed, will try to win the No. 2 job behind Greg Olsen, who is coming off the two most prolific receiving seasons by a Panthers tight end.

"Ed is a young player who has shown he is a capable blocker as well as receiver in the league," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said in a release. "He provides experienced depth at the tight end position, and we look forward to having him in the mix."

Despite his issues with drops last season, Dickson is known more as a receiving tight end. In fact, the football analytics site Pro Football Focus ranked Dickson as the league's worst blocking tight end in 2013.

The Panthers also re-signed tight end/fullback Richie Brockel this offseason, and brought in free agent tight end Mike McNeill, who was a blocking specialist in St. Louis.

Ben Hartsock, another blocking tight end, is an unrestricted free agent.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on April 10, 2014 at 02:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (31)

April 09, 2014

2014 Panthers preseason schedule released

The Carolina Panthers will play an all-AFC slate in this year's preseason.

Carolina will host the Bills and Chiefs while traveling to the Patriots and Steelers in August.

Only one date is set for the Panthers this preseason. Carolina will host Kansas City at 8 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 17 at Bank of America Stadium in a nationally televised game on FOX.

That's the second game of the preseason. Carolina will host Buffalo between Aug. 8-10. The team will travel to New England to face the Pats between Aug. 22-24.

The third preseason game is the one in which teams typically play their starters the longest, and a game against the Patriots should be a good barometer for the 2014 Panthers. Last year, Ron Rivera opted to keep Cam Newton in the game through three quarters against the Ravens in the third preseason game.

The Panthers will wrap up the preseason with an away trip to Pittsburgh some time between Aug. 28-30. Carolina and Pittsburgh will meet in the final preseason game for the 12th consecutive time, and the two squads will face each other again in the regular season when Pittsburgh comes to Charlotte.

An NFL spokesman said on Twitter earlier Wednesday there is no timetable yet for the release of the regular season schedule. In the past, the schedule has been released in late April.

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on April 9, 2014 at 03:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

April 08, 2014

Panthers agree to terms with DT Colin Cole

The Panthers are rebuilding their secondary and receiving corps. But the defensive front seven - the team's strength during the 12-win season in 2013 -- will return intact.

Defensive tackle Colin Cole, who started 13 games for the Panthers last season after being out of football for two years due to injury, has agreed to terms on a one-year contract with Carolina, a league source said Tuesday.

Cole and defensive end Greg Hardy were the only members of the starting front seven eligible for free agency. Hardy signed a franchise tender last month that guarantees him $13.1 million this season.

And while Cole's deal will be worth considerably less -- likely a slight bump from his $840,000 salary in 2013 -- the 6-2, 335-pound nose tackle was a valuable piece of the league's second-ranked defense last season.

Cole stepped into the starting lineup after injuries to Dwan Edwards and played 31 percent of the defensive snaps, helping keep blockers off linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on April 8, 2014 at 05:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)