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Carolina Panthers

Ask The Old Guy: Leaving Las Vegas


CHARLOTTE — Man, it's good to be home. A little Las Vegas goes a long way. And a lot of Las Vegas takes several days to recover from.

In a sense, that makes it the perfect way to wrap up the 2023 NFL season. We all needed a breather after that one. And sometimes it's good to forget.

Having never been to Las Vegas, I wasn't sure what I'd find. And I'm still not certain it's not a fictional setting that you could tip over a la Main Street Rock Ridge at the end of "Blazing Saddles." It feels made up. Vegas is like if New Orleans and Myrtle Beach had a baby and then immediately got that baby implants. It's not exactly what I would describe as real.

There are parts of it that were authentic, like Mr. Las Vegas Wayne Newton. His show still swings, even at 81, and seeing him sing "Danke Schoen" and tell the old Frank and Dean and Sammy and Elvis stories at the Flamingo made the trip worthwhile.

Of course, we were there for work, and what really made it worthwhile was seeing Julius Peppers' reaction to being named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Because Julius is so large and so larger-than-life, there's a temptation to ascribe qualities to him that mere mortals don't share. But he was genuinely taken aback by what happened to him there. Whether it was his astonishment that he and Barry Sanders were now part of the same club or his reaction to other Hall of Famers reacting to him, it was honestly touching to see Peppers respond the way he did. It reminds you how special that honor is that it turns them all into kids again, kids who looked up to their heroes without ever realizing they had grown up and become heroes themselves.

There was a game there, too. The singing woman's boyfriend's team won after she flew all the way from Japan to see it, and the only people who didn't love it were pretending not to because fake outrage is good for business. The Taylor Swifts beat the Christian McCaffreys when his coach made some weird decisions, but not the ones people are yelling the most about. It wasn't Kyle Shanahan taking the ball first in overtime that was strange; it was not going for it on fourth-and-4 at the 9. You can justify wanting the ball third for sudden death as long as you plan on going for two after you score your touchdown. Because you know Taylor's boyfriend's quarterback was going to score and do the same. That's why the rules are different when you're playing against him.

He's a legend already, and he's going to be in the spot Julius Peppers was in someday. You kind of hope he's as moved by it and that Wayne Newton's still around to preside over it all in a sea of neon.

But now we're back, everyone's 0-0, and we've got a sack full of mail that stacked up since the Panthers hired Dave Canales and Dan Morgan and had a press conference that couldn't be beat.


Have you considered a vacation home in Canton, Ohio? You might need one in the next few years. How many trips do you think you'll be making? — Will, Rock Hill, SC

Canton and its people are lovely and charming and welcoming. I will go as often as they'll have me. And at the current rate, they're going to have me a lot. I just don't know when exactly that will be beyond this August.

As we wrote last week, the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2024 offered plenty of good news for the Panthers beyond the election of Julius Peppers. Patrick Willis going in offered a precedent for the identically resumed Luke Kuechly, and Andre Johnson escaping the logjam at wide receiver can only help Steve Smith Sr. take a step forward, possibly into the final 15 next year.

That's not to say any of this is automatic. Making the Hall of Fame should be hard (and it is) to be meaningful.

Willis was in his third year as a finalist, having watched Sam Mills and Zach Thomas go in the preceding years. With 22 starters on the field, plus specialists, it's neither reasonable nor a given that one middle linebacker is going to go in each year. But Kuechly is certainly deserving. And while Smith has an equal or better resume than the receivers who were among the 15 modern finalists this year, there's no guarantee he will escape the semifinalist list after spending the last three years stuck in spots 16-25.

Here's what we know about next year's voting. The selectors will begin with the five guys who made the cut to the final 10 this year, but not the final five (Willie Anderson, Torry Holt, Jared Allen, Darren Woodson, Antonio Gates). The other five finalists (Jahri Evans, Eric Allen, Reggie Wayne, Rodney Harrison, Fred Taylor) have shown no reason not to return.

Then consider the list of players who will be eligible for the first time in 2025, including Kuechly, Adam Vinatieri (the league's all-time leading scorer and one of the great clutch kickers, with four Super Bowl rings), Eli Manning (whose 117-117 record and 84.1 career passer rating is buoyed by beating the Patriots twice in the Super Bowl and by being ubiquitous), and others including Marshawn Lynch, Terrell Suggs, Marshal Yanda, and Ryan Kalil.

Then throw in this year's 10 semifinalists who didn't make the cut to 15, including Smith, Anquan Boldin, Hines Ward, London Fletcher, James Harrison, Robert Mathis, Vince Wilfork, Eddie George, Ricky Watters, and Tiki Barber.

Take that group of 27 names and pull 15 out for a finalist group, and you'll begin to see how difficult this process is (and, again, should be). Now cut it to five, and be prepared for everyone to yell at you when their one favorite doesn't make it.

Kuechly and Smith should eventually make their way to Canton because they deserve to. Cam Newton has a compelling case as a truly rare player who changed the way the NFL considers his position (in much the same way new Hall of Famer Devin Hester did for returners).

When will that happen? There's no way to predict that part. But stay tuned because it might not take long.

Luke Kuechly


Hey Darin! Long time, no submissions, but c'est la vie when you're settling into a new place and a new job. Lukka says hi, and both he and his sister can't wait for training camp in August. Moving on, though, I wanted to pick your brain on something. With North Carolina winters being far more mild than I remember and likely getting milder in the future, depending on who you listen to, what do you think are the odds of a Charlotte Super Bowl? — Nate, Charlotte

Nate used to be Nate from Grand Prairie, Tex., and Lukka is, of course, our first (Man's Best) Friend Of The Mailbag. And since they're one of us now, they're already dreaming big Charlotte dreams.

A Charlotte Super Bowl was something that got talked about a lot in the 1990s, back before we had anything close to enough hotel inventory to consider a realistic bid (we don't have a river to flood to bring cruise ships in like Jacksonville until we repurpose I-277 into the canal it ought to be [Hey, we could call it the Dave Canal(es)!]). We're bigger than places that have hosted it before (Vegas, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, New Orleans), and the weather is generally amenable to it.

It would obviously be a boon to local business and the kind of feather in the tourism cap that Charlotte has longed for, back in the days when we insisted we were a "World Class City" so people would stop confusing us with Charleston, and then decided we should call downtown Uptown. Charlotte's got a lot of many things, including insecurities.

It could work, though. There's still some infrastructure we don't have that would be necessary to host an event of that scale, but I could see it happening within my lifetime.

Here's what else I know. If the Super Bowl comes to Mayberry, I know where you can find a nice little bungalow within scooter range of the stadium that will be available for rent. Because I'm leaving.

Vegas is a lot on a regular day, but all the people who were there last weekend made it that much extra extra. So many people. Like, can't cross the street or get out of your hotel driveway amounts of people. Which, again, would be great for business. But I am old and not a business owner and I have no interest in having those hordes of people descending upon my hood like locusts.

I'll be at my mountain compound or somewhere, counting my sweet, sweet Airbnb dollars and definitely not paying $30 for a cocktail.

Las Vegas


Hi Darin! This year, it seems the consensus is that the Panthers need to draft WR, OL, and TE at 33. I also remember that last year, there was a lot of hope, even nationally, that the roster was good enough to compete. Obviously, it wasn't, but you can make a case with better luck with injuries on the OL and with a scheme that optimizes the offensive players' skillset - remember the last 13 games of 2022 when the team went 6-7 doing that? - that record wouldn't have been the same. So am I crazy to think that we should draft the best "player-dawg" available at 33 instead of forcing any of those positions - or even trade down if there's value on the trade and more shots at finding those "player-dawgs" later? Thanks! — Fernando, Sao Paulo, Brazil

Dan Morgan created a thing when he started talking about dogs at his press conference. And yes, I spelled it dogs. I looked it up, and when future Charlotte Super Bowl halftime show artist George Clinton (Kannapolis native) recorded Atomic Dog, he spelled it with an OG. And since he's the OG, and this is ATOG, I'm going OG.

Spelling aside, Fernando's point stands.

The roster had weaknesses and was also unlucky to the tune of seven left guards and eight right guards. No one is that deep. The Panthers aren't the Superfund site some people want you to believe, but they certainly aren't in a spot where they can lock into any particular position, either.

The scouts have been holed up in meetings all week in preparation for the combine, and it's not like they're focused on any particular spot on the field or any particular spot in the order. You plan for the whole draft if you're smart.

If the receiver who can make an instant impact is there, take him. Same if it's a tight end. Or a pass rusher. Or a guard. Or a center. Or a middle linebacker. The Panthers still had a Dan Morgan when they drafted a Jon Beason, and that worked out OK. That was the result of a trade back when they turned the 14th overall pick into Beason and Ryan Kalil. A pretty good piece of business. It's harder to think about moving far back from 33 because, at a certain point, the good players are no longer on the board. But the Panthers could go many different ways with this draft and can't lock into any position.

With that first pick, they need to find someone who can contribute immediately and start for multiple years at some position. That's the extent of the requirements. Having canine qualities (and all his shots) would certainly help.

George Clinton


It has been quite a while since I have been this optimistic about the Panthers. I like all of the hires, especially the DC staying here. There is a lot of ground to still be covered. If I could get a first and a second and a player for Brian Burns, I would pull the trigger with no hesitation. My question is do you take a Day 2 QB? You might want to find a replacement for Andy Dalton for next year and, just in case, have a Plan B. Somebody like a Spencer Rattler. Good GMs always have a Plan B. — Stephen, Columbia, SC

With the expectation still that Brian Burns will be franchise-tagged, a lot of the fan base has already decided he's a commodity.

But if they trade him, you know what they'd need to use the picks on? A younger Brian Burns (and Burns is only 25).

Pass-rushers of his talent and skill are rare; that's why they get drafted in the top half of the first round. That's also why other people want him. That's also why they want him, and Morgan's not the kind of GM who is going to be in the business of giving assets away.

Keeping the defensive staff was a nice first step, but to play that defense, you need a couple of dudes at outside linebacker. Burns is one of those, and if you look at the depth chart beyond him, it thins out in a hurry. They have DJ Johnson, Eku Leota, Luiji Vilain, and Amaré Barno under contract, and Barno's coming off a late-season knee injury. Nothing against any of those guys, but if Burns isn't on the roster, they have to add multiple players there to approach last year's results. And if they keep Burns, they still need one, because the system works best when you have two legit edge rushers.

As for another young quarterback, this is still going to be Bryce Young's team until it isn't. It's noble to want to stockpile and develop quarterbacks, but you have to be willing to keep three on the 53-man roster to do that, and fewer and fewer teams are willing to devote that roster spot.

Derrick Brown, Brian Burns


I had a job training in uptown (Feb. 1) and highly considered skipping and going to the Canales-Morgan press conference instead. I know they don't let just anyone walk in there, but I'm assuming my status as Friend Of The Mailbag would have been acceptable. I could've put on my Ask the Old Guy T-shirt, and I'm sure they would've recognized that right away and sat me right in the front row, right? I did want it to be known that receiving that package from you was the highlight of my day, and just like me, I hope everyone who reads this Mailbag feels a part of the Panthers community no matter where they live, what job title they hold, or any other labels that people can put on us. Thanks, Darin, for all that you do! We really appreciate you! — Kevin, Mint Hill, NC

Wearing the FOTM shirt around here is like wearing a tuxedo in Vegas. Your belonging becomes implicit. Women stare. Men grow envious. This is also true in the inverse, as our female FsOTM know all too well. They can't wear it to the store or to a workout class without being noticed.

And you're welcome. Thanks for being a part of it all and for everyone who contributes to the 'Bag.


Well, another season coming up with another cast serving up the Kool Aid. Different flavors, Oh my! Along with some of the old flavors that didn't taste so good. What's going to happen? Will we win more than one or two games? Will this be Bryce's year to shine? Soooo much hope to go along with the last nine or so years of disappointment. And all the fluff to come along on to get us hyped.

Honestly? I like the head coach hire. I think we may have found a gem here, maybe a 10-year coach. I am a little excited for a change. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while. I wasn't all in on the Morgan hire, but again, I like that too. I think he'll do a good job. We're fans, Darin; we deserve something to root for. As you see, when we don't have that, we tend to get rambunctious, vocal, and cantankerous. I'm still going to hold any joy or disappointment until about the sixth game. Be patient, and by then, we should have a good idea of which direction this team is headed. Thanks for putting up with us last year. It has to get better at some point, right? — Scott, Hampstead, NC

Scott the Kool-Aid man tickles me. He's obviously a cantankerous old grouch. But he's also looking hard for a reason to hope, which speaks to an optimistic spirit he might not be comfortable admitting.

I do, however, object to "fluff." When new coaches get hired, all the coverage is generally similar. And since new coaches generally arrive after the last season went poorly, there's an aspect of "how he plans to fix it" that is inherent.

Compare this well-written Dave Canales feature written by the outside media recently to this excellent one Kassidy Hill wrote here two weeks ago. The themes are the same. So, miss me with fluff.

Given recent results, it's reasonable to withhold judgment. You plow through as many coaches as the Panthers have lately; it's fair to wonder if this one will be any more successful than the last one. Until they are, the skepticism is allowed.

Dave Canales, Thomas Davis


DG, what will the team do at TE coach, and in general, what does the process of a coach hiring a staff look like? — Andy, Grand Forks, ND

Andy's question came in before yesterday's staff announcement when Canales finalized most of the spots on staff (there could be more).

They hired longtime NFL assistant Pat McPherson to coach tight ends. McPherson has been around the game his whole life. (His father, Bill, was George Seifert's first defensive coordinator in San Francisco in 1989.)

Pat has coached quarterbacks and tight ends in his career and is a known commodity to Canales from their time together with the Seahawks.

That's a common theme with this staff, as most of the offensive and special teams hires worked with Canales in either Seattle or Tampa Bay, or are connected with Canales in some way (receivers coach Rob Moore knows him via Tony Dungy and an annual fellowship fishing trip). But they're all connected. Special teams coordinator Tracy Smith shared an office with defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero in San Fran in the early 2010s. It's a small world, after all.

If you've read this 'Bag before, you know I believe there are a few eternal verities in the NFL. As it applies to coaching searches, if the last guy was fat, the next guy will be skinny. These jobs tend to be filled reflexively since organizations tend to run away from whatever didn't work previously.

So when the last staff became a Tower of Babel, with all the tongues of the world being spoken at once, it makes sense that this staff would speak the same language. It's the circle of life in the NFL. And the hope is that by bringing together guys they have a background with (or at least shared beliefs), the Panthers can fix what was wrong with last year's team.

We'll see how it works. And if it doesn't, "diversity of thought" will make another comeback, as it is in Washington now after the Ron Rivera familiar-face staff was shown the door. And because it gives us an excuse to run a picture of McPherson and a guy with glorious hair (Seahawks tight end Colby Parkinson), I'm making Andy this week's Friend Of The Mailbag, so he can be cool like Kevin.

Pat McPherson


Buenas noches, Darin. I listened to the presser with Dan Morgan and Dave Canales. I liked what they had to say, but rah-rah speeches and good intentions don't win football games. I am an optimistic person, and I always hope for the best, but after the rollercoaster ride that was 2023, it's a little harder to blindly believe. I really hope they bring back that juice that has been missing for so many years.

You mentioned you like hearing stories about fans meeting players, and seeing as Morgan is a current topic, I will tell one about meeting him. I used to be a frequent poster on a Panther-themed message board ( Years ago, they hosted a tailgate, and maybe they still do, where the food was free, but they asked for donations. They collected the donations until the game before Christmas and then used the cumulative donations to buy bikes for the Toys For Tots drive at the stadium. I always loved that part.

So, anyway, the way that they were able to give away free food is that they would have a sponsor each week. Most weeks, it was a local restaurant or business that catered the food. Sometimes, it was a faithful Panthers fan. Occasionally, it was even an opposing fan. I remember one week when we were playing the Saints, a Saints fan had crawfish and shrimp shipped up from Louisiana for an authentic Cajun boil. (That was week 17 of the 2009 season. We whooped 'em good, but they went on to win the SB that year.)

Back to the story, one week, the food sponsor was a new pizza joint in Charlotte that had recently opened up. This had to have been 2008 or 2009. As I understand it, "talent scout" wasn't Dan's first attempt at a post-football life. My memory is that he had opened a pizza place in town and had supplied the pizzas for the tailgate. Delivered them himself. Then he hung out and had a couple of beers with us regular folk. I was admittedly a little star-struck but managed to talk to him for a bit. He was a super-friendly, genuine, down-to-earth guy. But I remember thinking he looked a lot bigger and intimidating on the football field. Still, it was a real treat to get to have a beer with one of the Panthers' all-time greats. — Chris, Greensboro, NC

No one who was there will ever forget Cheese-Mo'z Coal-Fired Pizza. Dan did, in fact, own a pizza place in Ballantyne, in a spot that's been about a dozen different restaurants since then. (Look up the stats sometime for the restaurant business if you want to be depressed .) I used to live nearby, and it was ahead of its time. High-end pizza and craft beers are seemingly on every corner now, but it was a nice spot.

Genuine and down-to-earth are pretty common descriptors of Morgan from people who know him well. He's very much a what-you-see-is-what-you-get type. (No BS is also something you hear a lot from longtime co-workers).

I'd say he made the right call taking that intern job in Seattle after the pizza place closed. Things worked out OK for him.

Dave Canales, Dan Morgan


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.

Is JJ Jansen going to be a Panther next year? He is a free agent on Mar. 13. — Zach, Charlotte

JJ Jansen will always be a Panther, at least in a spiritual and metaphysical way. He is as much a part of the fabric of this place now as the colors black and blue.

Besides, if he left, who would I rely on for running jokes in pregame?

Why are the Panthers so bad? Like, what is pulling them down? Thank you. — Gunner, Charlotte

Gravity? Dang, Gunner, it's February. Everybody's 0-0 at the moment. Let's see what Canales and Morgan do with the place for a minute.

Isn't it about time for the annual one-year re-signing of JJ Jansen? At least, I hope he re-signs. — Greg, Beckley, WV

Man, we have definitely found Jansen's burner now. He was already a FOTM, but seeding the clouds with questions is a new one for him.

Actually, he has already agreed to a Cart Talk/Ask The Old Guy crossover event in the future. And the way the two of us can talk, it might be the longest video ever produced here. Like "Killers of the Flower Moon" meets "Alice's Restaurant."

Also, Greg is actually a real person. The Jansen Youth are also real, and they are spectacular. He is the people's long snapper. May it ever be thus.

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