UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS: OFFENSE

Delhomme has solidified his role as the team's long-term starter and the Panthers will try to make sure he's around for the foreseeable future this off-season when they look to extend his contract, which currently ends after the 2004 season. Delhomme was the surprise free agent pickup of the year in the NFL, leading the Panthers to a 14-6 record and their first Super Bowl.

QUARTERBACK: Starter -- Jake Delhomme. Backups -- Rodney Peete, Chris Weinke.

Delhomme has solidified his role as the team's long-term starter and the Panthers will try to make sure he's around for the foreseeable future this off-season when they look to extend his contract, which currently ends after the 2004 season. Delhomme was the surprise free agent pickup of the year in the NFL, leading the Panthers to a 14-6 record and their first Super Bowl. He showed a knack for winning close games, eight times leading the Panthers to winning scores on their final possession. Equally as important, he's a class individual off the field. Peete is adored by offensive coordinator Dan Henning and is likely to stick around another season as a reliable backup. The only real decision at quarterback -- other than how much to pay Delhomme -- will be what to do with Weinke. His status is up in the air as he might look to go somewhere else after being shuffled to third string. The Panthers could cut or trade Weinke because he will have a significant cap cost in 2004, especially for a third-string quarterback. Weinke could be effective given the right offense.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- RB Stephen Davis, FB Brad Hoover. Backups -- RB DeShaun Foster, RB Nick Goings, RB Rod Smart, FB Casey Moore.

Davis set a franchise record with 1,444 yards in 2003 and despite rushing for only 49 yards in the Super Bowl, will be a huge factor again in the Carolina offense next season. However, he's likely to get fewer carries with Foster expected to be healthier at the start of season next year. Again, this gives Carolina a powerful one-two punch in the backfield. Hoover is under contract for three more seasons and had a very solid campaign for the Panthers. Smart played well in certain situations for the Panthers and is a solid kickoff returner and special teams player. Goings is good in third-and-long situations. Don't expect the Panthers to address the running back position in free agency or the NFL draft. Moore may have a tough time seeing any future with the Panthers.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Kris Mangum. Backups -- Jermaine Wiggins, Mike Seidman, Marco Battaglia.

Mangum brings a lot to the table for the Panthers both as a blocking back and a receiver. But he's an unrestricted free agent, so his status is unclear. Mangum would like to return to the Panthers and it's expected the team would like him back, too. Seidman was a third-round pick and the team likes his potential, but he spent half of the season on injured reserve. Expect him to play a big role in the offense next season as he's the best receiver of the team's tight ends. Wiggins played well in the postseason for the Panthers and is a good veteran to have around. Battaglia was simply a body to fill in for Seidman and isn't expected to return. If the Panthers re-sign Mangum they probably won't address this position in the off-season.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Steve Smith, Muhsin Muhammad. Backups -- Ricky Proehl, Walter Young, Kevin Dyson, Karl Hankton.

The Panthers are expected to sign Smith to a long-term contract before he becomes a restricted free agent. Muhammad played extremely well in the team's final 10 games, including a huge game in the Super Bowl that included an 85-yard touchdown reception. But Muhammad's cap figure could be a problem for the Panthers and he may need to restructure his contract to stay in Carolina. The Panthers love what Muhammad brings as a blocker. Proehl is a solid No. 3 receiver and still can make big plays, as shown in the Super Bowl where he caught the tying touchdown with 1:08 left in the game. The Panthers hope Young, a promising rookie, can continue to develop with another off-season of work. Dyson may or may not be back, depending on if he wants to take a cheap contract, but he's not a top priority. Hankton is primarily a special teams player and is well respected by the coaching staff.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Todd Steussie, LG Jeno James, C Jeff Mitchell, RG Kevin Donnalley, RT Jordan Gross. Backups -- G/C Bruce Nelson, G Tutan Reyes, G Doug Brzezinski, OT Melvin Tuten (IR).

The Panthers are likely to push to re-sign James, who had a breakout season in 2003. Some think he played like a Pro Bowler during his contract year, which helps his cause. Donnalley's contract is up and after 13 seasons he may call it quits. The Panthers won't overpay to re-sign him because they have Nelson, a second-round pick in 2003 who is ready to step in and start. Gross, their first-round pick in 2003, was everything the coaching staff thought he would be and more. If the Panthers decide to unload Steussie's contract, they would move Gross to left tackle. But they may work out a way to keep Steussie for another season. Mitchell is solid at center and some believe he should have been in the Pro Bowl. Brzezinski was a free agent bust and barely dressed on game days. Expect him to be released this off-season to free up some cap room.


Panther Insider Top Stories