Davis may be done

<i>Oringinally published on November 22, 2004</i><br><br> Davis does not fit into the Panthers future plan, and was intended to be a stop-gap until Foster proved healthy enough and dependable enough to take the reigns, which he has not done to this point. Time is running out, and the Panthers will be forced to make some tough and important decisions in the next 6 months.

Stephen Davis' stint with the Panthers may be over. After having microfracture surgery on his right knee last Tuesday, Davis will face several different factors on his road to recovery.

DeShaun Foster's future as a Panther
It was evident the day of the 2002 draft that John Fox and Marty Hurney had extremely high hopes for their second round pick. Panthers running back coach Jim Skipper's son, Kelly Skipper, was the offensive coordinator of the UCLA Bruins and had spent extensive time with Foster during his stint at the school. With the younger Skipper's inside information on Foster, the Panthers felt that they had the best running back in the draft when they selected Foster early in the second round.

Foster showed a flash of brilliance in the first preseason game of 2002 against the Washington Redskins. With his first carry as a panther, Foster ran for a 61 yard touchdown and thunderously stiff-armed long-time Redskins cornerback Darryl Green to the turf in the process.

Unfortunately the magic was gone almost as quickly as it came. Foster suffered a bone bruise and torn cartilage in his left knee later in the preseason, and was eventually put on Injured Reserve for the entire 2002 season.

Foster came out in 2003 and showed more promise, helping the Panthers reach the super bowl and playing very well in all four of the Panthers playoff games, while Stephen Davis seemed to have run out of steam due to carrying most of the load during the regular season.

2004 started off well, with Foster subbing for an injured Stephen Davis against the Kansas City Chiefs. Foster led the Panthers to their first win with 174 yards rushing, including a Panthers record 71 yard burst for a touchdown.

Then, Foster broke his collarbone, and after it wouldn't heal as quickly and as correctly as the team doctors would like, Foster was again shelved for the season and team doctors recommended surgery to correct his injury.

Panthers Head Coach John Fox and General Manager Marty Hurney acknowledged late in the 2003 season that the team would not have pursued signing Stephen Davis has Foster been healthy. With Foster almost certain to be 100% coming into this spring's mini camps and Davis rehabbing his knee from microfracture surgery, Foster will be the #1 RB through mini camp, summer school, training camp, preseason, and at least the first half of next season.

Foster will be a Free Agent at the end of the 2005 season.

The Panthers will have to see Foster go through an entire season healthy and productive in order to know if they should sign him to an extension or let him pursue an opportunity elsewhere. Foster will most certainly command a large contract, as the life of the NFL Running back is relatively short, and this would be the most productive stint of Foster's career based on the production of similar backs over the life of their careers.

2005 will be Foster's year to produce and prove he is worth the money.

However, if Foster fails - if he proves to be unable to correct his penchant for fumbling, gets injured again with another season ending injury, or just does not perform up to the level the Panthers staff is expecting from him – then the Panthers will be in quite a predicament.

Microfracture Surgery: Good for some, not for all
Microfracture surgery is anything but an exact science. Microfracture is a surgical procedure that focuses on cartilage regeneration by clearing damaged tissue from the knee joint and creating tiny "mcrofractures" by making little holes in the bone. Bone marrow, which contains stem cells, forms replacement cartilage between the bare-bone surfaces of the knee as it seems out of the holes/fractures.

Appropriate rehabilitation of the knee after surgery is critical to the success of the operation. Continuous Passive Motion, where the knee is moved gently by a machine for 5-8 hours a day for several weeks, keeping weight off of the joint for a period of 6-8 weeks, and strict adherence to an aggressive physical therapy program following surgery all appear to enhance the success of the procedure. However, factors such as the long-time wear on the knee, previous injuries to the knee, and conditions that may be existing in the knee like Arthritis tend to lessen the success rate of the surgery.

DeShaun Foster, Bruce Smith and Rod Woodson had successful experiences, but those that didn't include Former Denver Bronco RB Terrell Davis, Former Giants Cornerback/Safety Jason Sehorn, former Falcons DL Chuck Smith, Former Cardinal Andre Wadsworth and former Panthers Patrick Jeffers and Eric Swann. Considering Davis' injury history, his age, and his knee condition coming into the surgery, Davis will face a harder road back to recovery than players having the procedure done at a younger age and with less wear on the knee.

The Salary Cap and the First Round Pick
Stephen Davis is scheduled to count $3.1 million against the salary cap next season if he's on the team, or $1.5 if he's not. That's a lot of money to pay an older running back, who was said to have little tread left on his tires when he arrived in Charlotte in 2003. Now with the microfracture surgery and the evaluation of Foster for the future, Carolina may cut ties with Davis and save some money.

Barring a late season run, the Carolina Panthers figure to have a top 10 draft pick in 2005. There are a number of good running backs that figure to be available via the draft, and selecting one would allow the Panthers to not only build a talented and deep RB corps for 2005, but it would give the Panthers a blue chip RB to take over if Foster either flops or decided he's too expensive to stay with Carolina after the 2005 season. True, talented runners can be found later in the draft as Foster, Clinton Portis, and Terrell Davis can attest to, but big-time players like Marshall Faulk, Shaun Alexander, Jamal Lewis, and Emmitt Smith can only be found in round 1.

The Panthers have stated time and time again that they believe that you must be able to run the ball and stop the run. The Panthers had a nonexistent running game in 2004, mostly because of the lack of a talented runner.

Davis gone?
With all the factors facing the Panthers in the 2005 off-season, it will be an interesting summer for Stephen Davis. History is not on his side, especially the Panthers history with Microfracture. Chuck Smith, Eric Swann and Patrick Jeffers all proved to be albatrosses financially to the organization. The key is that the Panthers will save roughly $1.6 million dollars by cutting Davis.

That's not that much money in the NFL, but then again, it could be the difference in signing a player that can contribute or bringing in a player that will be a solid starter at another position.

Davis does not fit into the Panthers future plan, and was intended to be a stop-gap until Foster proved healthy enough and dependable enough to take the reigns, which he has not done to this point. Time is running out, and the Panthers will be forced to make some tough and important decisions in the next 6 months. Oringinally published on November 22, 2004


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