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Ask The Old Guy: Dave Canales about to get busier

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CHARLOTTE — March was a busy month for Dan Morgan and Brandt Tilis.

Now that it's April, it's closing in on Dave Canales time.

The heavy lifting of assembling a roster that's been done over the last month has been extensive. Getting Jadeveon Clowney in here late last week was the last big piece of business before the draft. There may be some other signings, but that's likely the last big one for a minute.

Canales is going to see some of his players in person for the first time next week, and there's going to be a meeting before the long runway toward training camp. This first stretch of the offseason is mostly working out, with some short meetings. But it's an important milestone for a new coach, nevertheless, as he gets to address his assembled team (or at least the part that volunteers to show up for the voluntary sessions) for the first time.

My guess, without looking over his notes, is that he's going to say the words "get the football right" a time or two. Call it a hunch.

Canales has been saying it a lot already because no matter the parts on hand, they now have to take them and make the most of them. Previous coaching staffs, as you may be aware, did not.

But it's his time now. He's been waiting for this opportunity, and he and his staff have been doing a lot behind the scenes to prepare for it, and next week it begins for real.

But so much has happened that you had plenty of questions about, so let's get to it.

(Also, coming soon to these channels, we have a very special episode of the video companion to Ask The Old Guy with Clowney himself. We got so excited talking Bojangles and other important things that I forgot to give him his Friend Of The Mailbag shirt on camera. Rest assured, it's waiting for him in his locker.)


Hi Darin! I've seen a lot of skepticism about the Panthers' moves. While I completely understand based on previous results, what's the alternative of trying to get it right every time? Wave the white flag (trade all the players?), then have a lot of picks and suddenly hit on every one of those picks? Doesn't seem a better option. So, bringing more options to better protect Bryce Young from the interior OL, a great separator at WR, and bringing some good defensive players to replace those lost (the individual names might not seem better, but when you see the whole group together and remember they'll be in Ejiro Evero's scheme and coaching they might be a good, even really good group) seems a reasonable thing to do. Another point of contention was the coach's response about being competitive in the division this season. Again, based on recent results, that seems absurd. But if you keep the defense good, have a little better luck on the injury front (OL, Jaycee Horn, Shaq Thompson), and improve the offense ('get the football right') - here's the major question mark, although if the coaching staff has a sound plan to put a scheme that Bryce and the players can execute at a high level, why then can't they be on every game and fight for the division title?

Anyway, as that was kind of a rhetorical question, here's the real one: how much of this year's FA contracts are left for next season or beyond? Because last year's ones left a lot of damage on this year's cap. I know every team does this kind of thing on different levels, but as a team that might compete instead of certainly competing for titles, It doesn't look like sound business to push a lot of money for future years. Hope Morgan and Tilis are being reasonable, as were the signings. Thanks! — Fernando, Sao Paulo, Brazil

They've done a lot of stuff. Most of it seems normal and reasonable, and normal and reasonable are undervalued commodities in the NFL. When people ask about recent Panthers moves, I keep using the words "solid" and "stable." I'm not reading off a script or anything, but these things seem to make logical sense this offseason. That's a good start.

Also, a lot of people got carried away with a tweet's worth of words during a 36-minute press conference, but people are also carrying scars from last year; I get it. Say the word "compete," and people start twitching involuntarily.

Does a coach believe his team can compete? Yes. This is true regardless of who the coach, what the team, or what the sport is, because what are you going to say? But when Canales said it in Orlando, it was contingent on getting the football right, which is a thing they can talk about now, but can't do until they get on the field. The good news is, they still live in the NFC South. Competing is easier here.

The other good news, from a long-term planning perspective, is that they have the kind of flexibility you want. Morgan and Tilis absolutely did this on purpose.

They're carrying some of the dead money this year to get it out of the way, as some of the long-term deals of last season (Hayden Hurst, Vonn Bell) will be off the books in 2025.

Also, there are only 25 contracts accounted for covering the 2025 season, which means they have a lot of holes to fill, but also a lot of ability to fill them. They're figuring out this year what they've got and what they need, which is a smart way to assess things.


A lot of Panthers fans on social media have speculated about the connection between Clowney and Stephon Gilmore. It has also been reported that the Panthers have been in contact with Gilmore. Has Jadeveon spoken to Gilmore about potentially joining him in Charlotte? — Dave, Leland, NC

I understand the temptation, and I love the theory of Gilmore. So does Clowney. And yes, they've talked a lot, as Clowney said he's encouraging his old high school teammate to "pull up."

But there are some practical complications to bringing another South Pointe Stallion home.

For starters, Gilmore's going into his 34-year-old season and was making $10 million last year. That's roughly the amount of cap room the Panthers have at the moment, according to, and they still need to sign a draft class and fill in a few blanks.

If you look at the scope of all the Panthers' moves this offseason, you'll notice that Clowney is the only player brought in from outside who is in his 30s, and he's coming off one of his best seasons and played a position of extreme need. The Panthers are not deep at corner, but they're not the same kind of shallow they were at outside linebacker before Clowney signed. Clowney was a must-have, which got them to go outside their box.

They're not there yet at corner.

If Gilmore was 29, or even 31 again, this deal might already be done. But he's not. He doesn't have to run extremely well to play his game (when you run a receiver's route for him like he did on the 2021 interception at Atlanta, you need to be smarter than fast), but they do need someone who can move.

He's a great player. This might not be as much of a fit as it was three years ago. Now, circumstances and financial expectations could always change, and you never say never to a guy with Gilmore's resume. But it's fair to say, "Let's stay in touch."

Stephon Gilmore


Darin, maybe my rants did not fall on deaf ears after all! I love your headline: "Dan Morgan wants to build through the draft, "dominate" at the line of scrimmage." I have always felt that the core success of a team is a product of the offensive line. You can have a great defense, but as last season proved, if you can't protect your QB, can't open holes for your RBs, and can't buy time for your WRs, you are NOT going to win many games. Finally, the Carolina Panthers potentially have a first-class O-Line, especially if its internal chemistry comes in line and if Bryce Young can feel comfortable and protected. There is a lot of work to do, but I just have this gut feeling that our new HC, GM, and free-agency additions will make the Panthers DANGEROUS. Nobody is giving them any chance ..... ranking the team dead last in power rankings. Time to start a little "smash mouth" and "Panther Pounding" and turn all the nay-sayers back into a powerful Panther Nation! We need to fill the stadium and make some NOISE! Count me in as a member of the NEW Panther Nation! — Jim, Timberlake, NC

I knew when I wrote that headline that Jim would be all fired up.

And while individual expectations vary, I am interested to see how willing some fans are to put themselves out there again.

There are reasons to feel positively about what's happened this offseason. Again, most of the moves happened for very particular reasons, to fill very particular needs.

And yes, the first of those was on the offensive line. They signed two top-of-market starters Robert Hunt and Damien Lewis. They put their best interior player (Austin Corbett) at center. They added an experienced backup tackle in Yosh Nijman, and that means former starter Brady Christensen is a sixth or seventh man that has given you competent starts and the versatility to play guard or tackle. That's a great start.

They still need to get Ikem Ekwonu more comfortable and consistent at left tackle and keep the ultra-reliable Taylor Moton (he's played every snap of every game for six seasons) on the field.

That's a good place to start this project.

Damien Lewis, Robert Hunt


Over the weekend, we heard all of the comparisons between NC State's DJ Burns and Zach Randolph/Hakeem Olajuwon, a sumo ballerina, and whatever else one might say. I can't wait to see him against Zach Edey next weekend. I hope no fouls are called.

Anyway, I wanted your take on his NFL prospects. A guy like Mo Alie Cox can come out of VCU and score TDs as a tight end. Could Burns be a guard or nose tackle? His balance and footwork are all the announcers can talk about, and that's also something I hear NFL line coaches talk about. Seems like a perfect match.

Also, what's your Final Four prediction (men's and women's)? — Cliff, Charlotte

Like everyone else in the United States, I adore DJ Burns and have been a fan since he played at Winthrop. Largely, pun intended, this is because he is as big as an (empty) ice cream truck. He leads the NCAA in euphemisms because no one wants to say the quiet part out loud. I'll say it. We love a big fat guy because they make the unapproachable (athletic excellence) seem approachable.

Self-awareness time: Everyone whose momma shopped for them in the Husky section (which was 1970s for "your inseam ain't nearly as long as you think it is, Jack, which is why there's so much extra fabric around your ankles, now roll up them cuffs") has declared solidarity with Burns. When a gentleman of stature sees another gentleman of stature, we naturally identify with and become protective over him. He's one of us. Therefore, we can also go to the Golden Corral and then to the Dowd Y and dominate both venues equally.

Except, we can't. This is the thing the giggle-and-point crowd might miss about Burns. He's supremely skilled at basketball. He has the aforementioned dancing bear feet, but the thing that's drawn me to him this tournament is the way he sees the floor and passes. He's like a big-and-tall store Domantas Sabonis, one of the most talented post players in the NBA you never see because he's in Sacramento (Thank you, League Pass).

Anthony Mason, god rest his soul, had a signature move when he was with the Hornets where he'd back that dump truck up into a defender, dribble, wait, dribble some more, and at the last available second, laser a pass to a cutting Glen Rice or a spotted-up Dell Curry. Mase's butt was so big it paid taxes in York County. But he saw plays unfold with the back of his head while it was pointed at the basket. He was third-team All-NBA (averaging 16.2 points, 11.4 rebounds, 5.7 assists, and 4.8 scowls per game) his first year here, and that's who I think of as the best-case scenario when I think of Burns the basketball player. Except DJ smiles. Mase was special, and that's not a perfect comparison, but I do think there's a place for Burns in the Association.

DJ Burns

Now, DJ Burns is not going to play 40 minutes a night in the NBA. He's averaged a career-high 24.8 minutes per game this year for the Wolfies. But when you see him spot up from mid-range, post up and drop-step to the baseline, fire passes to teammates who benefit from the attention he draws, there's absolutely room for that on somebody's bench. If you have a shot-creator or even a capable offensive option in your second unit, that's like gold (as we saw during that week the Hornets were good after the trade deadline). He's like a miniature, yet jollier (euphemism alert) Nikola Jokic. Jokic is also a big fan.

As it pertains to the NFL, a lot of people are intrigued. When people are large and athletic and have great feet, everybody wants to make them a left tackle because that combination of traits is rare. If DJ wanted to play football, he wouldn't lack for chances. But it sure sounds like he wants a future in basketball. Still, we dream, and you never know, we may have more on this topic later.

I won't waste your time with my predictions because I think college basketball is a bad product and I don't watch a lot of it (unless there's a player of unusual physical dimension).

But I'm here for all of the women, beginning with Charlotte Sting legend Dawn Staley and also Caitlin Clark, who kept us from having to listen to Kim Mulkey prove reporters correct when they write the longest version of Ozymandias ever printed.

(Bonus Panthers note which proves it's a small world: NC State student manager Zach Kifer is the guy you see pregame and postgame carrying a speaker for the Wolfpack, so Burns and teammates can dance. Kifer spent the last two summers as an equipment intern here. The more you know.)

DJ Burns


Not a question. In fact, not a Panthers fan. I'm Steelers Nation forever. Just wanted to say you fleeced us for Diontae Johnson. He's the best route runner in the league. I can't think of a better guy to provide easy throws to your young QB. He can get separation on every route and is elusive after the catch. I hate that we traded him. But I think he will be a playmaker for years in Carolina. Good luck to you. — Pat, Sebastian, FL

Ah, back to football (and the congregation says "Amen").

Thanks for your well wishes and your outreach, Pat. You are a credit to your kind. And just for that, I'll make you this week's Friend Of The Mailbag, and you'll have something cool to wear in a more flattering color than black and gold (which looks best in Boone, N.C.).

All of that seems reasonable, except the "for years" part. Johnson has a single year left on his contract, which is part of the reason the Steelers were willing to make him available.

He has a high incentive to be productive this year, since he'll get paid if he is. Maybe that will be here. Maybe it won't.

But he's here because they needed somebody to do all that stuff you just said since they didn't have one of those last year.

(This is also where I point out that we shouldn't undersell Adam Thielen this year. Sure, he'll be 34, but he wasn't necessarily fast when he was young, and he also caught 103 passes for 1,014 yards in an offense that wasn't conducive to, well, much of anything. Adam Thielen can still play.)

240314 Diontae Johnson Arrival-098


I don't think it's a secret the Panthers will likely target pass catchers in the upcoming draft, especially because they have official visits set up with several WRs. My question is, do they allow Bryce to throw to these receivers on their visit to see the chemistry and how they gel? — Tyler, Charlotte

Interesting idea, but that's not how those trips work.

When a player comes in for one of those "top 30" visits (so named because teams get 30 of them, not because they're for the top 30 players on the board), most of their time is spent with the personnel department and position coaches. Usually, a guy will come in, spend some time on the board with staff, and get a tour through the facility before circling back with coaches before they go.

There may be a chance to run into a potential teammate in the hallway or weight room or cafeteria and for some short conversations to happen around lunch, but any time they'd spend together is in passing, not passing the ball.

And since they're looking at receivers, plural, it would be a ton of offseason throwing for Young if it did work out that way.


Thailand Tony has been up either really late or really early, watching some round ball. My alma mater, NC State, has brought me the kind of excitement I'm hoping for from the Panthers this season. At least on paper, they/we seem headed in the right direction. I'm still hoping for the draft to net us Payton Wilson from my Wolfpack. But with all the defensive free agent signings, I'm having my doubts. He may not make it to 33 or 39 anyway.

One thing that has hit home with me while watching NC State has been that intangible cohesiveness, camaraderie, and, to steal a quote, the "Why Not Us" mantra. Once Steve Wilks took over, I thought I saw that in the Panthers. Once Chris Tabor took over, I thought I saw a bit of that again. Those rallies were in light of dramatic midseason changes. Do you think it's possible for us to start our season that way? Got to run, going to try to cook up some spicy shrimp 'n grits!. You have no idea how hard it is to find a grit or two over here in SE Asia! — Tony, Chiang Rai, Thailand

I thought this was going to be another DJ Burns question for a second. We've had plenty of those.

But Wilson's an interesting case. He can clearly play and has the right kind of role models, as he mentioned last week. One of the only big questions about him is his injury history. He has two ACL tears (one in high school and one in college) and a collection of other problems, including hamstring and shoulder injuries. So he's not without risk.

When well, he's a baller, evoking some memories of the way Kuechly flew around at Boston College. And he's as fast as he is instinctive, as the tape shows the kind of player he is. The play merits him being a first-rounder, but the medicals could cause him to slide (and those things always vary team-to-team). But yeah, he can play.

It's somewhat easy for interim coaches to create a foxhole mentality with their guys since they're kind of in foxholes by definition. But creating that kind of dynamic is as important to what Canales will do over this offseason as anything they do on the field.

The Panthers haven't had a sustainable culture for a few years with all the change, and with Morgan and Canales coming in together, there's the opportunity to work together toward that. Again, it starts with getting the football right. If you don't do that part, all the speeches and slogans and whatever else just fall flat. But building something from the ground up creates the condition for guys to feel like they're in it together. One of the biggest goals of this season is to find that kind of coherence and consistency.

As for Asian grits, I don't even know where to start. Congee? Polenta? Cream of Wheat? Ask a relative to ship you a big ol' boxful of actual grits from home? Get creative and tell me what you figure out.

Payton Wilson


How does the NFL determine how a team is compensated for losing players? The Rams were willing to give Carolina two first-round picks for Brian Burns, Yet when he leaves to sign with the Giants, we only get a second pick and a fifth-round pick? It seems like the Giants stole him from us. — Mark, Windsor, CA

Mark, did you not read the last Mailbag? We covered this.

The short version is that the Rams' offer, or anything like it, was no longer available since Burns was out of contract. So while it's easy to slip into revisionist history, Morgan made the call to make the best deal he could make, end up with a pair of picks in the top 40, and proceed.

240329 Free Agency Jadeveon Clowney -20


And on that note, let's go lightning round, brought to you by the patron saint of the lightning round Jeff from Fuquay-Varina, to close it out this week.

What number is Clowney gonna wear this upcoming season? — Josh, Emerald Isle, NC

It was easy for Clowney to get back into the 7 he wore at South Pointe High and South Carolina once Shaq Thompson vacated the single-digit life. Shaq looks better in 54 anyway, feels old school that way, and he's clearly got an old school sensibility. I did some math, 54 isn't closer to his actual age than 7 was, but it's close, and it feels appropriate.

Please ask Clowney how it feels to be home. Also, who was his favorite Panther? Thanks!Ron, North Myrtle Beach, SC

He's excited since it's a quick ride up 77 from his hometown. He's also excited, as you'll bve able to tell from the video version of the Mailbag we did with him, to get back to Bojangles country.

But he's also fired up about walking the same halls as Julius Peppers, his boyhood idol. He talked about that when he arrived, and it's likely to come up again.

I am interested in what you think plans are for second-year player Eku Leota. I would appreciate your feedback on Eku. — Tom, Asheville, NC

Leota's an interesting player. He caught eyes coming out of camp last year for his ability to set the edge in the run game. Works hard. Gets after it. He may not ever be a flashy pass-rusher, but he's stout in a way that will keep him in chances to prove himself.

Since that entire position is in flux, it's a little hard to know how all the pieces will fall, but he'll also benefit from offseason reps since guys such as D.J. Wonnum and Amaré Barno are still recovering from late-season injuries and will miss time in OTAs.

What is your opinion on releasing Bradley Bozeman and moving Corbett to center? Corbett has had issues staying healthy, so do we have an option for this position if something goes south? And, peanut butter/jelly or ham sandwich? If you're a PBJ enthusiast as am I, strawberry or grape? Got to be grape, right? — Wanda, Deep Run, NC

Bozeman was quite good in 2022 but suffered from a scheme change last year and wasn't able to get downhill as much as before. He's in a good place with the Chargers, as Jim Harbaugh loves the power game. I think Corbett will be fine in the middle, and at the moment, they have some young guys in reserve. I still think Christensen could do it, and there's always the draft.

I prefer PBJ. Always strawberry. My mom just sent home some freezer jam, and that's amazing, as long as you don't think too long about how long it's been in the freezer. All best-by dates are a suggestion. Don't be a pawn of Big Grocery.

Also, peanut butter seems healthier than ham, whether it is or not. Thus, inspired by the goal of being as cool as DJ Burns, it might be time for one right now.

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