Panthers Update 1-16

There are some Internet rumors floating about that the New York Giants might go after John Fox if they were to fire Tom Coughlin. But while it's clear Fox is a favorite of the Mara family, it's highly unlikely Panthers owner Jerry Richardson would allow Fox to get away after he helped turn the franchise around with his arrival in 2002.

Fox is under contract through 2010 and has no escape clause.

Even if the Giants wanted to pursue Fox, the cost to get him (in terms of draft picks) would be very steep. Despite going 8-8 this season, the Panthers still like what Fox, the winningest coach in franchise history, has done over the course of his tenure. Although the Panthers have only made the playoffs twice in five seasons under Fox, they have gone to two NFC title games and a Super Bowl.

Since Fox took over as head coach in 2002, the Panthers have not finished worse than 7-9. Only five other teams in the NFL can say that: New England, Indianapolis, Denver, Kansas City and Seattle. Fox is the only active head coach who has not finished worse than 7-9 and coached at least five years.

The rumors became moot when Coughlin was given a one-year contract extension through 2008.


--The Panthers are 22-18 on the road under Fox (not including postseason). They were 19-37 away from home before Fox's arrival. Carolina is tied for fifth with Denver for the NFL's best regular season road record over the last five years.


--This season, the Panthers became the first team to go 5-1 in the NFC South a second time (also doing it in 2003) while the Buccaneers became the first team to go 0-6 in the division's five-year history. Carolina went 1-5 in the division's first season, but has gone 17-7 since.


--Jake Delhomme became the Panthers all-time leader in several categories this season.

Delhomme surpassed Steve Beuerlein in attempts (1,848), completions (1,101), yards (13,331), touchdowns (89) and interceptions (58). In the season finale versus New Orleans, he established a team single-game record with an 85.2 completion percentage by completing 23-of-27 passes.


--DeShaun Foster posted the third-best rushing total in Panthers history, rushing for a career best 897 yards. He now sits just 70 yards behind Tshimanga Biakabutuka for the franchise's all-time lead with 2,460 rushing yards in his career.


--Wide receiver Steve Smith finished the 2006 season with 83 receptions for 1,166 yards and eight touchdowns over 14 games. He now has 30 receiving touchdowns in his career and needs 15 to break the team record held by both Muhsin Muhammad and Wesley Walls.


--Kicker John Kasay scored 100 points in 2006, giving him a career total of 1,405, ranking him 17th in NFL history.


--Punter Jason Baker set a team single-season record with a 39-yard net punting average.


QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't think (there will be a lot of changes). When you finish seventh in the league (in total defense), it's not like you finished 31st. When you finish in the top 10, that's nothing to shake your head about. Now granted, it's not what we want to be. We always want to be number one. But to be seventh in the league, I don't think you'll see that many changes, because we're a good defense." -- Panthers safety Mike Minter.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

COACHING CAROUSEL: Offensive coordinator Dan Henning became the first change to the coaching staff when he was fired Jan. 15, along with offensive line coach Mike Maser and secondary coach Rod Perry.

"We thought that we needed a change," Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said. "It just came down to a gut decision that we thought that we made in an effort to hopefully get us jump-started and improved.

"It's very hard to make these type of decisions. They're good coaches and good people."

FREE-AGENT UPDATE: The Panthers have no candidates that could possibly be named the franchise player. The team has no free agents who they must absolutely re-sign.

FEELING A DRAFT: The Panthers select 14th overall in the draft, and they have plenty of needs to fill. The most glaring are middle linebacker, left tackle, safety and tight end. At some point Carolina may look for a big power running back, something that former second-round selection Eric Shelton failed to become.

TEAM NEEDS

Middle linebacker: The Panthers can't trust that Dan Morgan will make it through the season after suffering through his fifth concussion. In fact, there's a chance the team will release Morgan.

Safety: The Panthers got little to nothing out of last year's free agent pickup Shaun Williams, and Mike Minter, who turns 33 this month, isn't making a lot of plays. Look for two safeties to sign this offseason, perhaps one in free agency and another in the draft.

Offensive line: Pick a position, any position. The Panthers simply need more talent on the offensive line to be the type of running team they want to be. A left tackle would allow the team to move Jordan Gross back to right tackle and move Travelle Wharton over to right guard.

MEDICAL WATCH:

DE Mike Rucker will have surgery this week to repair a torn ACL in his knee. Rucker went down in Week 15 against the Steelers, and the injury raises some question about his future with the team. It's unclear if Rucker will be ready to go by the start of next season.

--Another former Pro Bowl player, G Mike Wahle, is likely to have surgery on his shoulder after missing the last three weeks.

--C Justin Hartwig is recovering from surgery a couple of months ago to repair a groin injury.

--T Travelle Wharton is recovering from surgery in the fall to repair a torn ACL in his knee.

--QB Jake Delhomme will not need surgery to repair his sprained right thumb, which should heal fine in due time.


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