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Ask The Old Guy: March Madness


CHARLOTTE — With all due respect to our neighbors at the Spectrum Center, the real March Madness has been the activity inside Bank of America Stadium for the last couple of weeks.

They might have had all of the uncompetitive basketball down the street, but the Panthers have basically rebuilt a football team from the ground up in the last 12 days.

The pace slowed a bit this week (it couldn't continue like the first few days of the league year), but the work is ongoing, and a theme is emerging. And it's not mad at all; it's actually very calculated.

The Panthers are putting together a team for the moment, but they're also keeping their eyes on the horizon, based on the way this is built.

Because as active as the they've been, they've also maintained a lot of flexibility for the future.

Carolina entered the league year with 20 players under contract through 2025. They cut three of them. But even after all the incomings, they're still at 24 players with contracts through the 2025 season or beyond, and nine of those are offensive linemen.

It's no surprise the Panthers wanted to create stability there, but they're also reserving judgment on the roster as a whole for future years. Of the 11 outside players signed or traded for since last Wednesday, four of them are on one-year deals (Diontae Johnson, Jordan Fuller, K'Lavon Chaisson, and David Moore). So, this is very much a team under evaluation for the coming years.

And if all things are equal, they're probably leaning toward change as opposed to retaining past players. There are some talented guys walking out the door. They weren't able to create a winning product here (through no fault of any individual; it was bigger than that), so that stands to reason. There are guys leaving who will help other teams. But the Panthers are more stable and solid now than they have been, and stable and solid is a pretty smart goal right now.

Of course, there's more to be done, but the news has slowed to a nearly Virginia basketball pace. (Actually, nothing is as bad as Virginia basketball. Virginia basketball is a war crime against a beautiful game, and I'm grateful to Colorado State that our fair city was spared from it. Although Colorado State scored 44 points last night, so I fear it's contagious. Thus, I will stay away, just to be on the safe side.)

At any rate, that's probably enough basketball talk. The only bracket we care about here is former Colts linebacker Gary Brackett, if only because he allows me to make one of my favorite jokes, which three people laugh at each year. Yet I will continue to make this joke; this is my vow. Consistency matters.


Thank you for all your great work. After the first week of free agency, what do you think is the team's most pressing need right now before they get to the draft? What free agents or positions do you think they might target before draft day? — Michael, New Rochelle, NY

Well, as you might imagine, the one big obvious spot is outside linebacker.

They've brought in a couple of guys for visits, and Chase Young opted to go elsewhere. Jadeveon Clowney is still deciding, as is his custom. Clowney has signed four straight one-year contracts, and he's signed them on Sept. 8, 2020, Apr. 14, 2021, May 22, 2022, and Aug. 18, 2023, respectively. This is another way of saying who knows when to expect a decision from him. But he's a free agent, that's his right.

The market at that position went fast, and there's not much left at the top of it, other than Clowney.

Realistically, if he chooses to go to another team, the smart play may be to wait until the draft and see what happens. The remainder of the free agent market contains no sure things, so they can afford to wait to find role players later.

Obviously, that's not a finished product, as they have D.J. Wonnum, DJ Johnson, and Chaisson, among others, there now. But again, this is not going to be a one-year fix, and they're not going to be able to solve every problem in one offseason.

So stay tuned; that one is most likely either Clowney, the 33rd pick, or the 39th, plus the guys on hand and maybe a vet later.

Otherwise, the bulk of the work is done. They'll add depth, particularly on defense. They could use some more safeties, linebackers, and corners. But at this point, you're working on backups and special teamers, getting to April, and then filling in the blanks as you can.

It's also important to note that they'll be first in waiver order from now through Week 3 of the regular season, and that's going to be a factor this year as well. First dibs on the discard pile can be helpful for a young team.

Jadeveon Clowney


Hello to my fave Panthers writer! I write to you now no longer in Nevada but in Washington state. We almost moved out to Charlotte, but it wasn't meant to be. Life. Anyway, with moving, little kids, doing the adult stuff, and getting more gray hairs by the day, I haven't had a chance to write in for some time.

Whew, the Panthers were bad last season. BAD. The past is the past, and hopefully, there are greener pastures ahead, but this consistent loss is really wearing on my fandom. I like the beefing up of the O-line and getting one WR playmaker via trade. WR is still a big need. Incoming Mike Williams? Do the Panthers draft a true X receiver? Double dip at receiver in the draft?

I think the Panthers need to draft a center. The kid from West Virginia fits the "dawg" profile. The edge room is a major concern along with CB. Tell me there is a plan in the near future to shore up these positions, i.e., draft, free agency, trades, etc. You're the best, DG! Hope all is well with you and your family. — Jeff, Seattle, WA

The artist formerly known as Jeff from Henderson, Nev., has accurately diagnosed both 2023 and the areas of need in 2024. (Shame he couldn't have been Jeff from Charlotte, our city is better with every good person who comes to it.)

Wide receiver is a spot that will get addressed since they have nine on the roster at the moment and will probably add three or four more before camp. Williams opted to play for the Jets and eat weird bagel sandwiches with processed meat products instead of delicious biscuits filled with processed meat products (or, better yet, fish). Michael Gallup has visited, and he's still out there and an intriguing downfield option, but they brought back Moore to compete for a roster spot, and he has a background with (and production for) Dave Canales, so he's an option.

The outside linebacker spot comes into play because 33 and 39 are premium spots in the draft, but they only have the two of them in the top 40. So if you go pass-rusher/pass-catcher there, you're left with five picks to add depth at all the other spots.

Center's also on the list. Austin Corbett's there for now, but he's turning 29 at the start of the season, and has one year left on his contract. He's good at his job and could play his way into the future, but you also can't rule out a draft-and-develop for the middle in the middle or later rounds.

I'm not a betting man (besides, gambling's illegal at Bushwood, and I never slice), but it's reasonable to think that between free agency and picks 33, 39, and 65, receiver will be addressed.


Hello Darin! I was in London recently and saw the world's oldest complaint! I am happy to report that it was NOT about the Brian Burns trade. Anyway, my question is: Why did we not trade a fourth for Keenan Allen? We need receiving help and he is a very talented player - 1,243 yards last year! And he is from Greensboro! This made no sense to me - I'm wondering if you can clear up some confusion here. — Zach, Charlotte

London is incredible; all of its stuff is so old, so I'm glad one of our young readers got to experience the gift of international travel. Was there last spring and went to a pub that opened in 680. Not 1680, 680. Sadly, Zach didn't get there in time to eat at Lee Ho Fook's, because the beef chow mein there was the stuff of legend.

As it pertains to Allen, they haven't said specifically, but it's reasonable to imagine that it came down to numbers. Not the ones on the back of his football card, but the ones on his pay stub and his birth certificate.

Trading for a 31-year-old with a $23.1 million cap hit doesn't fit with all the other business they've done this offseason. At least part of the reason they were able to be so active this offseason is they didn't have Burns' $24 million franchise tag value sitting on the books like a boulder. With that flexibility, they were able to do a lot of stuff. With the way contracts are structured, they got both Robert Hunt and Damien Lewis for less than $11.5 million worth of cap space this year.

And if you look at that (long) list of newcomers they either traded for or signed in the last two weeks, you'll notice that none of them have an age that starts with a 3. If you're going to sign a bunch of free agents, you want most of them to be in that 25-29 sweet spot, in which they know what to do and how to do it and are still physically capable of doing those things.

Allen's amazing, and having him back in his home state would have been cool. But the numbers made it more logical to do all the other things instead. Also, spring break is over, so GET BACK TO CLASS, ZACH.

Warren Zevon


Hi there, Darin. I have been a Panthers fan for a little while now, and I love everything about it. Despite living far away, I was even able to fly in for a game last season with my dad (9-0 loss against the Bucs, not the prettiest game). But anyway, with all this "free agency frenzy," a lot is changing around the Panthers, and I can't help but think what the part of the team thinks about some of these moves.

What does Bryce Young think about having a target to throw to and an offensive line that can protect him? Also, what do Derrick Brown and the rest of the defense think about Brian Burns being gone? I understand that there are always ups and downs, but are these the correct ones? — Atticus, Allen, TX

OK, first things first, Atticus, go thank your family for being so good to you, for flying you to see a game, and also for giving you an excellent name. Clearly, your folks read the good books. And for being young and hopeful and an ambassador in a foreign land, I'm making you this week's Friend Of The Mailbag and will get the appropriate honorarium on the way to you soon. If Atticus Finch had been here, he'd have been the proud owner of one of our T-shirts and would have worn it while out there being righteous and also the best single parent he could be.

We'll certainly ask Bryce and Derrick what they think the next time they see them. No one likes seeing friends leave, but the reality is, what was happening the last few years wasn't working, and needed to change.

Bryce will likely enjoy not being sacked 62 times, and adding Hunt and Lewis and moving Corbett to center should help with that. He'd also like having a receiver who can get open in Diontae Johnson since that was a massive problem last year.

Brown has more than a year's worth of background with cats like Burns, Jeremy Chinn, and Frankie Luvu, so it will be harder for him at a personal level. But he also has a guy like A'Shawn Robinson on the other side, which will keep teams from running away from him as they're beginning to do. And if/actually more like when Derrick's contract extension happens, I imagine he'll be happy indeed because he's a foundational piece they want to build around, and those guys are handsomely compensated.

As much as players enjoy familiar faces and stable surroundings, they also enjoy winning, and that hasn't been happening lately. So shuffling the deck was a natural consequence of that. We'll see if this version of the shuffling works. It seems fair to be optimistic now. But they haven't done anything on the field yet, but the conditions have been created to allow a more positive outcome.

Bryce Young, Derrick Brown


Thanks for the mention and out-of-the-box answer in the last Mailbag. I agree; showing up in an NFL parking lot in a minivan is the essence of cool.

I'm curious to know what is happening with Brady Christensen? I think he's a good player. He seems to be an afterthought, I don't get it. I'm hoping they give him a shot at center, I've thought he was a center since we drafted him. I also thought Chinn was a LB, though, so what do I know? Any insight you can provide is appreciated. — Deric, Gastonia, NC

I also think Christensen is a good guard and is going to have a long career in the league. Just happens that Hunt is one of the best in the league, and Lewis is pretty good and also known to the head coach. This means that, at the moment, Christensen is the kind of depth they've rarely had on the line.

You're not the only one that thinks Brady could be a center. He has the three things you need there — awareness, intellect, and athleticism. So if he ended up snapping at some point, it wouldn't surprise me. He can also play tackle, which helps. If you noticed last year, sometimes depth is called upon. Now they have a better grade of it.

With an experienced swing tackle in Yosh Nijman, and Christensen to back up at guard, you've got some competition for those eighth or ninth active spots on gameday between guys such as Chandler Zavala, Cade Mays, Nash Jensen, and others, including people who could arrive on draft weekend.

Improving the line as a whole to the point a player such as Corbett changes positions or Christensen becomes a backup means that the line is better, and having known commodities is a luxury for a young quarterback.

(I also thought Chinn was a linebacker. Still do. Hard to imagine he gets a lot of snaps in Washington at that position after all the other guys they brought in such as Luvu and Bobby Wagner, but Jeremy's rookie year was his most productive, and that was when he was playing a Thomas Davis-style weakside linebacker and running around and creating havoc. But there's not really a spot for that in this 3-4 set-up, so he gets to spread his wings and fly. Jeremy's good people. I hope he's successful.)

Brady Christensen, Austin Corbett


Hi Darin! How are you doing today? I know I'm a bit new to this Mailbag thing, but there are a lot of questions I have for the Panthers that I just have to discuss. If you went back in time to the draft last year, would you have picked C.J. Stroud over Young? My second question is, do you think the Panthers will trade up for a higher pick in this upcoming draft? Thank you for your time. — Harris, Lorton, VA

Better for you asking, Harris, thanks. This is a welcoming Mailbag, so come back whenever you want.

If I went back in time to last April, I would still have drafted Young first, as would practically the entire NFL. Also, I would have made some 401k elections with a different perspective.

The way things worked out, here and in Houston, created a magnificent confluence of second-guessing and hindsight (which, as Cam Newton told us, is always 50-50). But what's clear is the situation for Stroud was clearly better than anything Young enjoyed, which makes evaluating them based on one year intellectually lazy and also completely unfair.

I'd like to see what Young does in a normal offense, with a coherent plan, better protection, and more weapons. I'd also like to see how Stroud performs now that people realize he's actually really good at this, too. A lot of people can be good once. Being good several years in a row is trickier for many reasons. I'm a big proponent of time when making decisions like this because it gives isolated incidents a chance to breathe and become what they are as opposed to what they seem this very second. (Social media was a terrible idea and we already regret it.)

The other one is less complicated. I'd be surprised, given the situation the Panthers are in right now if general manager Dan Morgan starts trading more picks for fewer things (whether that's players or higher picks). He's made multiple mentions of the long-term process, and if you're about the long-term process, you want to have more picks. So I imagine the days of trading a third-rounder for a perfectly competent corner such as CJ Henderson (good luck in Houston, CJ) are over, or even trading a future sixth for a backup pass-rusher and special teamer such as Darryl Johnston in 2021 (who the coaches didn't even play). There's a time and a place for such moves. A future six for a year of Stephon Gilmore in 2021 was a good idea for a young team with a first-round corner to groom. But that stuff's lost to the sands of time when you don't re-sign him.

I would imagine Morgan is going to lean conservative with his resources when it comes to draft picks, knowing they need to add more quality players to the roster.

CJ Stroud, Bryce Young


Good evening, sir! I just wanted to say how happy I am that the front office is investing so much in offensive interior linemen here in the offseason. I, for one, am a big Bryce Young fan, and I'm happy to see us putting some BIG guys up front to protect him. When watching the game, I pay particular attention to the three guys in the middle, probably because I was a center back in the day, and I love watching the technical aspects of how they do their jobs. Anyway, I've seen a lot about the starting three, but what about their backups? How deep are we at center and guard?

And here's just a random question for you. How many times a week do you find yourself using the phrase "I get it" or "I understand" when answering our questions? I think it's been more this offseason so far than any other year. Thanks for always giving us the good scoop, the truth as you see it, whether it's what we want to hear or not. Oh, and thanks for the Luke Combs and Tracey Chapman video last week. I missed it on TV, so I was grateful you included it. Two great artists even better together. — Jeff, Concord, NC

Love this Mailbag because it provides a pulse on what fans are talking about and feeling. And with so many thinking about the importance of offensive line play lately, it means your eyes are on the ball.

Again, having a second unit of Christensen, Zavala, and Mays or Jensen or a draft pick inside with the second group is a better alternative to what was going on last October and beyond, when dudes were being signed off the streets or practice squads and becoming starters of various degrees of capability, or rookies were being thrown into positions that were not advantageous to their long-term development. Mays is the easiest option at backup center because he's done it, but there are a few guys here who could potentially do it.

To Jeff's second point, it does feel like being a therapist around here sometimes. Comes with the gig. Things haven't been great. People are tired of seeing not great football.

But the response to that can't be to overcorrect and steer into the other ditch. The response needs to be to get to the middle of the road and prove you can stay there for a second. And the moves they've made so far fit that description. No fanbase is going to have a parade for signing a big ol' guard or two in March, but in October and November, they should be glad to have them.

This offseason, a lot of moves — from hiring a coach and a GM to the signings and trades they've made — might not be home runs, but they have been a collection of singles and doubles. And that's what this team needs right now. Be normal. Be stable. Get better. And see where that takes you. If you create a setting for the quarterback to breathe and make some plays, maybe the improvement speeds up. But for the moment, the goal shouldn't be to be better in March; it should be on the long-term health of the roster and the people on it.

Dan Morgan


My Buddha nature did not come about easily. I watched this franchise go into the gutter over multiple seasons. Like many, I became frustrated and, on occasion, mad, really mad. We have given away assets and drafted poorly; we have gone through coaching staffs like cold beers on a hot day. This time around, it feels different; perhaps the consultants we hired had something to do with this. We have replaced many of the players released, traded, or allowed to go elsewhere. With the draft still ahead, we may put together a team better than the last five. Coaching, I truly believe, will be much better. I will once again be at Game 1. Hopefully, this year, I will leave encouraged rather than being alarmed. Can they pull it off? I am betting they will. They are certainly off to a good start. Yes, I am allowing myself to buy in once again. I, too, am watching Tampa, Atlanta, and New Orleans closely; you cannot trust them often. They all seem to be going through the used tire QBs like we did, hopefully with the same results. — Stephen, Columbia, SC

See what I mean about feeling like a therapist?

Man, that was a journey. Stephen starts out mad, and ends up at a completely different place. Almost a hopeful place.

The only honest answer is, "We'll see." There are reasons to think this will end up differently. There were reasons to believe last year's moves might have as well. But this year has felt different, for a lot of reasons.

I also love a good used tire reference for a bunch of QBs who have recently re-capped.

If Kirk Cousins, Derek Carr, and Baker Mayfield turn into modern versions of Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Darnold, and, well, Baker Mayfield, then that might be OK for the Panthers as they compete in what is still a messy division. They're all more established, but everyone else is zigging with mid-range (yet expensive veterans), so the margin is still in zagging with the young one and hoping to create a better team around him.

Baker Mayfield, Derek Carr


What's your beef with March Madness? College basketball is the best, and this is the best weekend of the best thing. — Will, Rock Hill, SC

If this is the best advertisement for your product, I'm not buying. There were four games in Charlotte on Thursday. The average margin of victory was 23.0 points. The "close" game was a 56-44 colonoscopy after the poor Colorado States were infected by Virginia, and the beloved Rams scored a whole 11 points in the first half. Thoughts and prayers.

I enjoy seeing the future-salesmen-turned-heroes like the Jack Gohlkes of the world as much as anybody, and I anxiously await seeing DJ Burns at Panthers rookie minicamp in a few weeks. Longtime readers know I am a sucker for players of unusual physical dimension, but Burns isn't just a sideshow. He's a baller, who can see the floor and pass and has great feet (so stop trying to give him ice cream, he's not a prop).

But my biggest problem with college basketball is that the basketball is usually pretty bad. And that hurts to say because growing up in this state, I remember the time when the product was much better. I was the kid who went to the library to get the television cart Mrs. Jarrett reserved a month in advance so we could watch the ACC tournament.

The stories are wonderful. But the point of basketball is to score points or to artfully prevent your opponent from doing so. These people aren't very good at it. This is why I invest in NBA League Pass each year. If you people loved basketball the way you say you do, you would too.

DJ Horne, DJ Burns


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.

Hi, I would like to know if the option presented by Cam Newton was ever discussed or presented as a variable option. I've supported Carolina from their entrance into the league, and was a resident at the time. My All-time favorites are Jake Delhomme, Sam Mills, and Cam Newton. — Linda, South Hill, VA

Good choices on players. Three all-timers, on and off the field.

Which option? As a player? That time has passed, and I sense that even Cam recognizes that now. As a content creator, he's welcome to join me anytime. In fact, he can have my desk. Fourth and 1 meets the Happy Half Hour would be the crossover event you didn't know you needed, but that you all deserve.

I know that Dan Morgan and Dave Canales said that they would draft the best player at the 33rd pick. In a perfect world, what position would you go for first? My thought is still the offensive line, although the conventional wisdom says that there are a number of good wide receivers. — Mark, Windsor, CA

In a perfect world, Marvin Harrison Jr. and Dallas Turner slide down the board, and I have a choice to make. Unless Clowney comes aboard soon, pass rushers will be near the top of the list, and so will receivers. But with 33 and 39, they could end up with one or the other, plus a center, a linebacker, a corner, a tight end, or many things, and you could justify it.

I know that it's the NFL Offseason, and hope doth spring eternal from now until September, but this newly minted PSL owner (God bless being back in the homeland) wants to know what you and the rest of the Panthers Crew do during this "downtime," because y'all work your tails off during the season. — Nate, Charlotte

Thanks, Nate. What do we do in the offseason with all the downtime? I'll let you know. I'm looking forward to finding out someday. Maybe watch college basketball? (Probably not.) But would love to be like some of my ne'er-do-well friends with normal jobs and take the day off to see what all the fuss is about since we know it's not points.

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