Davis: Another Free Agent Bust for the Panthers?

Is Davis the next in a historic line of Free Agent Busts for the Panthers? <br><br> Chuck Smith, Sean Gilbert, Eric Swann and Jeff Lewis are just a few of the Panthers worst acquisitions in franchise history. These names represent millions of dollars and priceless draft picks that were wasted on some of the leagues most touted talent at the time. They where brought in to win games and bring the franchise recognition that it wanted desperately.

Sean Gilbert will almost certainly go down as the worst trade in team history. He came with a price that the team will never be able to justify. The Panthers gave up two first-round draft picks for five injury-plagued seasons for a total of 15 ½ sacks. He ended his last season with Carolina on injured reserve resulting from a broken hip he sustained during a game.

After a dismal season in 1999 in which the team went 8-8 the Panthers and then head coach George Seifert took the quick-fix approach in an attempt to reach the next level in 2000. Two free agent busts came to Carolina in that attempt.

Chuck Smith was signed to a five-year $21.75 million dollar contract in February of that year. Smith came with a history of knee injuries. He played in a total of two games, finishing with one tackle and no sacks before being placed on injured reserve with a career-ending knee injury.

Eric Swann at least was signed to the league minimum not costing the team anything more than a valuable roster spot. There were many questions about his durability. Swann had arthritic knees and had seven knee operations over his career by the time he landed with the Panthers. He had missed 18 out of 34 games over the last two seasons with the Cardinals. The Panthers used Swann sparingly and ended the season with one sack.

In 1999 the Panthers traded their third-round draft pick and a conditional 2000 draft pick to Denver for quarterback Jeff Lewis. Some NFL, "experts," considered Lewis to be the "next Mark Brunell," that would have to wait to be seen. Lewis would take the back seat to Steve Bueurlein for the 2000 season. In a controversial move Bueurlein would be released the following year. It would have appeared that Jeff would have a solid hold as the starting quarterback for the Panthers in 2001. That was before 4th round draft pick Chris Weinke beat him out in the pre-season. Jeff Lewis would be released without starting one game for the Carolina Panthers.

Looking at the present and what may be the current Carolina free agent debacle, some find themselves wondering if Stephen Davis has played his last down and that he was only a flash in the pan in Carolina's attempt to acquire a bruising running back. The Panthers picked Davis up when Washington released him because he didn't fit in Steve Spurrier's pass-happy Fun 'n' Gun offense. The only other team, Houston, offered a contract to the injury prone back, causing some to speculate that his recent injuries were a sign of things to come.

In 2002, Davis missed four games with nagging shoulder and knee injuries. In Davis' 9 year career he has played just one full 16-game schedule. As a starter for six years he has only been healthy for 75% of those games. In fact over the past 2 seasons with the Panthers, Stephen Davis has only played in 16 total games.

Early in the 2004 season Davis had arthroscopic surgery to clean out torn cartilage in his knee, but the knee kept swelling following team practices. Two games into the season, Davis was placed on injured reserve ending his season and perhaps his career. Later the team would learn that he would need microfracture surgery on his right knee that would require doctors to drill holes into the kneecap that causes scar tissue to replace cartilage.

Former Panthers' wide receiver Patrick Jeffers had the same surgery and would never play again. DeShaun Foster also had the same surgery in 2002, and was back on the field in 2003. Taking in consideration Davis' age and injury history, there is a chance that he has played his final game.

When time has elapsed and experts have spoken, some may be persuaded that the Panthers over paid for a running back that only gave them one year of hope. Some are confident that Stephen will return and regain his old form. Yet, others believe his age and durability will play a role in ending his career here with the Panthers. At the end of the day we are confident that when we look back at the Panthers Super Bowl run we know we could have never gotten there without the powerful running of number 48, but in the long run will he be worth it all?

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