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This is the fifth installment of a 32 part series on the 2013 NFL Off-season Team-by-Team Analysis.
2012 Record: 7-9 (2nd in NFC South)
Key Free Agents: DT Dwan Edwards, TE Ben Hartsock, S Sherrod Martin, LB Captain Munnerlyn
Coaching Staff: HC Ron Rivera, DC Sean McDermott, OC Mike Shula, ST Richard Rogers
-Give Cam Newton a competitor. The 23 year old has played pretty well through his first two years as a starter for the Panthers. He's started all 32 games, passed for 7,920 yards with 40 touchdowns and 29 interceptions and a 85.3 passer rating. On foot, he's gained over 1,400 yards on 253 attempts, averaging just under 6 yards a carry. It's clear to see that Newton is everything we thought he would be coming into the league. The kid has a rocket for an arm and displays the leadership ability that every coach wants in his QB. But could he be better if he had some competition? Since Day 1, Newton was the starter in Carolina, so he's never really had to compete for his spot. The guy in the #2 spot is Derek Anderson, the former starter for the 2007-2009 Cleveland Browns, who is light competition for the younger, quicker, more accurate Newton. I'm not saying that the Panthers should draft a QB though (they've invested in Newton and don't have the cap space to anyways). What they should do is try to pick up Matt Flynn from Seattle. The former Packer has become the spectator to Russell Wilson and although he hasn't had a stellar career, his presence should be enough to show Newton that he doesn't have the starting job locked up just yet.
-Draft Giovani Bernard and sell DeAngelo Williams. The Carolina Panthers simply don't have enough money left in the bank to hold on to Williams, who has shown decline since he ran 1,515 yards in 2008. The Panthers gave him a 5-year/$43 million contract in 2011 with $21 million guaranteed, but for a 29 year old back who only put up 737 yards on 173 attempts in 2012, the contract is starting to look like a bust. The solution? Put Williams on the market and draft Giovani Bernard, the RB out of North Carolina who ran for 1,253 yards on 239 attempts this past season and also recorded 362 yards on 42 receptions and 263 yards and 2 touchdowns from 16 punt returns. The kid has been compared to C.J. Spiller, and we all know how Spiller is doing in Buffalo. He could aslo return kicks for the Panthers who have had troubles finding a man for the position in recent years. He's expected to go in the second round of the draft where the Panthers will have the 12th pick.
-Be smart about re-signing. The Panthers are about $12 million over the cap and have some key free agents to re-sign in the off-season, which means some players may be taking pay cuts (Chris Gamble, Ron Edwards, Jon Beason, Jordan Gross). If they cut DeAngelo Williams, they'll free up some cap space, but they still need to sign their draft picks and their key free agents if they hope to compete in 2013.