Landing an MVP? Could happen
The Panthers have been getting cozy with league MVP Shaun Alexander at the Pro Bowl. Alexander, who will be an unrestricted free-agent in a few weeks, stated earlier this week that he'd like to return to Seattle, but that he wouldn't mind playing for Carolina.
The Charlotte Observer noted that signing Alexander would be unlikely, but the Panthers staff views a strong running game as one of its most pressing needs to be successful, and the ultimate failure to reach the Super Bowl this year. There are some salary cap moves that could open a great deal of space, namely the restructuring of Julius Peppers' mammoth contract (nearly 15 million dollars) , releasing Brentson Buckner, Stephen Davis and Brandon Short, and allowing Free Agents like Jeff Mitchell, Chris Weinke, DeShaun Foster and Tutan Reyes to hit the street. Don't rule out the Panthers finding a creative solution to adding Alexander if they think he could greatly improve their team. They get to see Alexander up close and personal this week, as the Panthers' coaching staff is the staff coaching the NFC in the Pro Bowl.
Panthers scouting DLs could mean someone is on the outs soon
It's no secret that the Panthers scouted defensive linemen at the Senior Bowl. Some of the players scouted were: Darryl Tapp, Virginia Tech; Gabe Watson, Michigan; Elvis Dumervil, Louisville; Albert Toraina, Tennessee; Jesse Mahelona, Tennessee; Kamerion Wimbley, FSU; Kyle Williams, LSU; Manny Lawson, NC State.
Most of these players figure to be late 1st to 3rd round picks, adding to the notion that Buckner could be a cap casualty, or that Kris Jenkins (who hasn't played but a handful of games in the last two seasons) isn't in the long-term plans. If you recall, a lot was made of Jenkins' off-field problems dealing with his injury in 04-05 in which he battled alcoholism, over-eating and lack of motivation to keep in shape. The Panthers aren't positive that Jenkins will be able to regain his Pro Bowl form after missing the last two seasons and being so inactive for the better part of two entire years. Adding a high-round draft pick could ease that pain. They thought they had done that last year in drafting DT Attiyah Ellison, however, Ellison was a huge bust. The Panthers have to make up for a largely disappointing 05 draft this year by selecting several impact players.
KR could be the Panthers' KR
WR/KR Koren Robinson (who is an unrestricted free agent) stated this past week that he'd like to "come home" and play for the Panthers. Robinson grew up in Belmont, NC and was a stand-out WR for NC State before being drafted high in the first round by the Seahawks. After several on and off the field issues, the Seahawks cut ties with Robinson, who landed in Minnesota as a kick returner and will fill that role for the NFC at this year's Pro Bowl. He's stated that he's a changed man now, and that he's more focused. Robinson is in a unique situation, as he's gotten a taste of what it would be like to be a member of the Panthers, (as they are coaching the NFC team this week), and fellow receiver Steve Smith is there to get to know him as well. If they like what they see, Robinson could be a cheap addition to the WR corps and an answer to their stagnant kick return team.
What's the deal with Eric Shelton and the RB situation?
Shelton was a second round pick, that was "injured" and placed on IR for the season. Shelton is a big back and had success at Louisville, but tends to run too upright and he hadn't learned to pass block as well as the staff would have liked before the start of the season. The Panthers would have been admitting huge mistakes if they'd have cut Shelton because that would have meant cutting their 2nd and 3rd round picks (Shelton, Ellison). Instead, they placed him on the IR, allowed him to learn the offense and become familiar with the NFL game from the sidelines. In hindsight, this was a terrible move. Shelton's injury only took a few weeks to fully heal, and with Stephen Davis' ineffectiveness and Foster's broken ankle in the playoffs, they could have used a running back with some talent, or at least one that could fall forward for some positive yards. Keeping both Rod Smart and Jamal Robertson was a mistake, as Smart was greatly ineffective as a kick returner and made no impact whatsoever as a running back. Keeping Shelton active could have allowed him to take reps in practice as well as been available when their first 3 options were out of commission.
For what it's worth, the coaching staff had opportunities to meet with some of the more high-profile RBs during the senior bowl, but didn't make that a high priority. That could indicate that they are a) happy with Shelton's progress, b) intend on resigning Foster or c) have their eyes on another free agent… or a combination of the three.
The Charlotte Observer has indicated that the Falcons are trying to trade TJ Duckett, and the Panthers are interested, but it seems highly-unlikely that the two teams would consummate a deal given the fact that they are division rivals. There are several talented backs slated to be free agents, and you can see the entire list – here.
Look for the Panthers to select a back around the 3rd to 4th round to add depth and talent to a position that could suddenly be suffering from a great deficiency in a few weeks.
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