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Five moves that could resurrect winning ways

Posted May 22, 2017

Panthers enter organized team activities having worked tirelessly to position themselves for a rapid return to success.

Words regarding how the Panthers plan to reorganize their offense in response to the addition of versatile weapons Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel will be regurgitated for months to come, and for good reason.

The potentially dynamic duo the Panthers landed over the first 40 picks of the NFL Draft could help Carolina return to the type of offensive output it enjoyed as the league's highest scoring unit in 2015. The Panthers, however, won't be able to return to the playoffs on the rookies' merits alone.

McCaffrey and Samuel represent just one of several renovations this offseason aimed at rebuilding the Panthers into winners.

With organized team activities kicking off this week, here are five other recent reclamation projects aimed at reasserting the Panthers' relevancy.

1. Retooling offensive tackle

No, there's still no way to know if Michael Oher will successfully return next season, but the Panthers would have looked to upgrade the position regardless after having to shift right tackle Mike Remmers (now a Viking) to the left side after Oher placed in the concussion protocol early in 2016. The team moved quickly to sign former first-round pick Matt Kalil early in the free agency and will entrust him to the left tackle spot, and they closed out the second round of the draft by grabbing an intriguing prospect in Taylor Moton. A developing Daryl Williams, who started on the right side much of last season, is back. If Kalil returns even close to Pro Bowl form – he made the squad as a rookie in 2012 – and if Oher is able to contribute, the depth of talent at tackle will be head and shoulders above what Carolina had at the end of last season.
 
2. Reclaiming their own

The Kalil signing was a strong start to a historically aggressive free agency frenzy for the Panthers, capped by bringing back a couple of highly successful players from the past. Future Hall of Fame defensive end Julius Peppers is set to return to Carolina's lineup for the first time since 2009, and bulldog nickel cornerback Captain Munnerlyn is back for the first time since 2013. Peppers is the franchise's all-time sacks leader, while Munnerlyn ranks first in team history with five interceptions returned for touchdowns. Both should provide a positive jolt to their respective position groups in a season when the defense is trying to bounce back, too.

3. Re-signing their own

In addition to bringing back some blasts from the past via free agency, the Panthers added some key pieces previously with other teams like Kalil and safety Mike Adams. And before some of last year's key cogs were able to hit the free agent market, the Panthers moved to bring them back.

The Panthers kicked the effort off by signing defensive end Mario Addison – the team's sack leader last season – to a three-year contract before he hit the open market. A couple of days before free agency began, Carolina brought back defensive end Charles Johnson and running back Fozzy Whittaker. And, after using the franchise tag of dynamic defensive tackle Kawann Short prior to the new league year, the Panthers signed Short to a five-year contract last month.  

4. Recommitting to competition

The Panthers addressed their punting situation right before last season by trading for three-time Pro Bowler Andy Lee, who got off to a strong start and is ready to return from a hamstring injury that sidelined him the last seven games. Few teams have as powerful a combination of legs as Lee and kicker Graham Gano, but Lee is 13 seasons into his career, and Gano had an up-and-down 2016 season. In response, the Panthers kept Lee's late-season replacement (Michael Palardy) and drafted a kicker for the first time in franchise history (Harrison Butker).

That's a microcosm of the approach the Panthers are taking up and down the roster. Creating competition for roster spots has always been a goal, but human nature made that philosophy tough to execute last offseason with the Panthers coming off a 15-1 campaign. But now, following a 6-10 season, everyone naturally knows that nothing is off the table in terms of making moves to improve.

5. Reenergizing for another run

Try as they might – and head coach Ron Rivera researched many methods – the Panthers couldn't avoid the so-called "Super Bowl hangover" last season. For reasons hard to define in ways that pre-date the current regime, the franchise often has struggled to repeat success.

But when doubters line up against the Panthers, they usually respond. Rivera was thought to be on the hot seat following a 1-3 start in 2015, but Carolina rallied to finish 12-4. The 2014 team rallied from a six-game slide to make the playoffs.

Last season, the Panthers failed to live up to expectations. That's often been a recipe for Carolina to exceed expectations the next season, and that's no doubt the approach players and coaches are embracing for 2017.