In the final hours before the NFL Draft, teams have been known to come completely unglued as the pressure mounts and the phone rings and rumors swirl and owners get involved.
In their long and winding history, the Carolina Panthers have been there. Done that.
In their short and winding recent history, with Marty Hurney giving way to Dave Gettleman, who then gave way to Hurney again, the Panthers have tried their best to stay calm and take the best player available.
Which doesn’t explain why they seem to be in a never-ending search for a wide receiver.
If nothing else, we can be certain that Carolina will not take a wide receiver with its first pick Thursday night. Or can we?
This best-player-available nonsense is part of the reason the Panthers have never had two straight winning seasons in their 24 years of existence. Which is hard to do when you think about. That’s not 24 years of a star-crossed franchise. That’s not 24 years of missed opportunities. That’s 24 years without a plan, at least one that worked.
So here we go again, headed into another NFL Draft with what appears to be obvious needs for a team that finished the year 1-7 in its final eight games last year and somehow no one got fired for it.
The reason Carolina collapsed down the stretch was that it was injured and old at key positions along the offensive line, the defensive edge and the secondary. So that’s where the Panthers will certainly look Thursday to begin the process of starting over yet again.
Last week, Panthers coach Ron Rivera said he wanted players who “will help us win.”
That’s not a misquote. Coaches and general managers are loathe to tip their hand, and they’ll either tell you something so bland and obvious that it makes them look unimaginative or so outlandish that you know they’re blowing smoke for other teams.
There was a time when draft picks came from tips from regional sportswriters and national sports magazines and by word of mouth and blind faith. Now the picks come from the opposite, over-analyzing players, over-scouting players and listening to talking heads on television.
Carolina doesn’t need a lot of help here. The Panthers have focused on offensive linemen and defensive ends because those are the two positions of immediate need and the two positions with obvious options early in the draft. The Panthers will almost certainly take one of each at No. 16 on Thursday and then at No. 47 on Friday.
That’s where things will get interesting. Carolina will have two picks in the third round, and it seems possible that both of those picks could also be offensive line and edge rusher. With the move toward a 3-4 defense this season, the Panthers will be shopping for a different type of defensive end/outside linebacker like the early Carolina days in the Dom Capers-Vic Fangio 3-4 zone-blitz era.
And yet, we keep hearing about quarterbacks.
If the Panthers take a quarterback in the first three picks, that will tell you one of two things: Either Cam Newton is still somewhat questionable, or Rivera and Hurney have lost their minds.
This is also when we’ll begin to see the effect David Tepper will have on this franchise. The front office has already convinced him to go after some free agents, which is something he said last year he didn’t particularly like. But that tells you he realizes how many holes Carolina has to fill just to be competitive this year.
The phones are already ringing, and the Panthers are already considering trading up for a particular player and trading back for more picks. The heads are spinning all over the league, and the lies are flying and owners are meddling and veterans are nervous and rookies get to you beat.
That’s an old adage in the NFL.
Everyone seems to forget that on draft day.
But there’s another old adage hanging over this franchise this week, and it also has to do with rookies.
They get you fired.
Hurney and Rivera are walking into the 2019 NFL Draft with their jobs on the line, and everyone knows it. This could be either their finest hour or their final hours.
Other than that, it’s just another draft for the Carolina Panthers.