Panthers enter uncertain offseason

Bittersweet. That was the atmosphere inside the Carolina Panthers locker room following Sunday's season-ending 31-23 win over Tampa Bay.

Bittersweet.

That was the atmosphere inside the Carolina Panthers locker room following Sunday's season-ending 31-23 win over Tampa Bay.

Certainly the Panthers were thrilled to finish strong by winning two of their last three games against playoff teams, but there was also the empty feeling of knowing the season is over and for the second straight year there will be no postseason.

"There is disappointment," general manager Marty Hurney said after the game. "Our goal every year is to make the playoffs and we didn't do that. It's nice to win the last game but I think there are certainly some mixed emotions because all of us here, our goal was to keep playing after the last regular season game and we didn't reach that. But I think there's a sense of pride as far as the way we finished out the year and kept fighting and never quit."

The Panthers enter an uncertain off-season.

Although NFL Network analyst Cris Collinsworth reported last week that owner Jerry Richardson told him Hurney and coach John Fox were safe and would return next year, Richardson refuses to address the local media covering the team about the issue.

When asked to talk about his future with the team after Sunday's game, Fox said in reference to some wild internet rumors, "Well yesterday I heard I was the UCLA head coach and today I heard I was the Miami head coach. Right now I can tell you I'm the Carolina head coach and other than the speculation by a lot of you people (in the media) I've never thought anything different."

Fox wouldn't say if he's talked with Richardson about his future.

Afterward, Hurney addressed the speculation by saying, "I think it's just like the evaluation with players. You wait until the emotion is gone and we will go through meetings this week. I think John and I both are here and we want to stay here and that is the approach we have always taken."

Regardless of whether or not Fox and Hurney return, next year's roster is likely to look a lot different than the team that finished the season. The team has 16 unrestricted free agents and two restricted free agents to think about re-signing and they have several players who are likely to get cut in salary cap moves.

"We've talked about it some," Hurney said. "But I think what you want to do is wait until the emotion goes down. We'll meet all this week and evaluate ourselves and have those discussions a lot here over the next couple of months. Obviously we have an idea of where we think we need to strengthen."

As for what areas the team needs to strengthen, Hurney wouldn't get into any details.


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