Panthers Who May Be Slashed From The 2014 Roster
By Blake Baxter
The Carolina Panthers’ surprising regular season came to a climax last weekend. Just two weeks after getting more or less dominated by the division leading New Orleans Saints, QB Cam Newton connected with reserve receiver Domenik Hixon in the endzone with 23 seconds left in the highly anticipated rematch. Newton, who threw for 181 yards with one touchdown and one interception, was less than spectacular during most of the critical victory, but he managed to make good throws in the most crucial moments.
It was the Panthers defense that deserved the lion’s share of the credit though, as has been the theme throughout this wonky season. Spearheaded by their fantastic front seven, the defense held the Saints generally high-powered offense to just 222 total yards and 13 points. Sensational second-year LB Luke Kuechly recorded an unbelievable amount of tackles (24) along with an interception. Fellow LB Thomas Davis recorded 14 stops of his own, and DE Greg Hardy accounted for three of the team’s six sacks on the day. Carolina’s defense impressively recorded 50 more tackles than did the defense of New Orleans. This defensive effort is primarily responsible for putting the team in the place that it is in now.
The Panthers have now clinched a playoff appearance, and with a win over the 4-11 Atlanta Falcons, they will improbably snag the NFC’s second first round bye. It has been a stunningly successful season thus far, but with the NFL – whether teams are ready for it or not – the next season is always just around the corner. Soon the Panthers, like so many other teams in the league, will be forced to come to terms with the fact that they will not have the exact same team next season. In the coming months, we will have a better idea of what their roster will look like but for now, here are a few names that might not be around once 2014 rolls around.
Drayton Florence is a gamely veteran cornerback who has bounced around the league for 10-plus seasons. He joined the Panthers this past offseason, but was cut before the season began. The Panthers only brought him back after its secondary was decimated by injuries in the early going. Florence has been serviceable for the most part, however, he is not as quick as he once was and it has cost the Panthers on occasion. They could definitely stand for an upgrade. Florence will be a free agent at year’s end.
Fellow CB Captain Munnerlyn will also be a free agent after this season. He has played his entire five-year career in Carolina. Since he was drafted in the seventh round of the 2009 draft, Munnerlyn has spent time as a punt returner, left cornerback and right cornerback. Although he is far from perfect, Munnerlyn is having the best season of his career, recording two interceptions, three sacks, two touchdowns, twelve passes defensed and 44 tackles thus far. Carolina’s secondary has been much maligned throughout this season, but his production and intangible leadership skills – appropriately Munnerlyn is a team captain – would certainly be missed. However, this does not mean he is necessarily irreplaceable by any means.
Carolina’s unsung hero of the moment, Domenik Hixon, was invaluable on Sunday. But unfortunately, during the vast majority of the season he has ranked somewhere between “unremarkable” and “completely expendable”. Hixon was once an important piece to two different New York Giants Super Bowl runs, but struggled with injuries, tearing his ACL twice in two years. Up to this point, he has recorded five receptions and one touchdown, and has not started any games as a Panther. That could change soon as Steve Smith is unlikely to play this weekend against the Falcons with a knee injury. Either way, Hixon will be a free agent at the end of the year.
Honorable Mention: Steve Smith
The 13-year veteran probably would not take too kindly to being put into this category, but let’s face the facts: Smith is 34 years old and his body is not getting younger. He will be a Panther in 2014, and he is under contract through 2016, but Smith is not going to be around forever. Regardless, he is still one of the league’s fiercest competitors, so he will most likely stubbornly hang on as long as possible. Of course, that does not guarantee the team will hesitate to start looking for his successor as soon as possible.
It is plain to see that the Panthers' future is far from certain, but that really does not make them any different than any other team in the league.
What sets them apart is their exciting present.