Ask the Old Guy: Super Bowl memories

Ask-the-Old-Guy-feb-8

CHARLOTTE — Even though we've been in offseason mode for a month (or more), it's still football season for a few more days.

While a week at the Senior Bowl has me thinking ahead, there's still that one more game coming this week that people seem to be interested in.

And the more I watch this Bengals team, the more I flashback to the 2003 Panthers, both from the quick rise from the bottom to the top, but also the earned confidence they took to Houston that week. The '03 Panthers were absolutely convinced they deserved to be in that game, and it took Tom Brady doing what would later be referred to as Tom Brady things to derail them.

But more on that in a bit, and we've got a number of questions that bridge the gap between the past and the future, and what really gets cranked up when we get on the other side of Sunday's game.

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Hey Old Guy, it's a rare year where I neither like nor hate either team in the Super Bowl. As a Panthers fan, where should my rooting interest be? — Rich, Mount Olive, NC

The Rams seem to be a pleasant bunch of fellows in their own way. But I grew up on Star Wars, and investing an emotional attachment with the Rams feels like pulling for the Empire.

I mean, they've got the bigger spaceships and all the people in the slick uniforms, so of course they're going to win, right?

There is something almost admirable about a team waking up, deciding that draft picks are overrated, and collecting all the stray Pro Bowlers to fill their roster. It might not be long-term sustainable, but the idea of building a defense with Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey on it already, then going out and renting Von Miller, is just so over-the-top, and L.A.

But man, those Bengals. Joe Burrow is cool in the way that you want your quarterback named Joe to be, whether your generation sends you to Montana or Namath. And even if no one believed in them (and plenty do), the Bengals have that walk that tells you they are absolutely convinced they belong here.

Speaking of the comparisons between the Bengals and the Panthers (which include having the worst record in the league two years before their Super Bowl runs), and because I sometimes like to ask the questions myself, I sent former Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme a text the other day:

"Better QB-WR combination in a Super Bowl: Delhomme-Steve Smith Sr. or Joe Burrow-Ja'Marr Chase."

Naturally, Delhomme replied quickly, because he's good people and not just because he likes talking about himself.

"One duo is undrafted and a third-round pick, and the other is a top pick and a top-5, so put it in relative terms and I'll take me and Smitty."

He then added not two, not three, but four emojis of a person laughing so hard he cried, which could mean even he doesn't believe it. Of course, going Jake's route would allow a team a spare first-round pick to use on, say, a Jordan Gross. And Joe Burrow could definitely use one of those this week.

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How much do you think the Panthers like this group of college QBs? — Carter, Charlotte

In a perfect world, the Panthers would find a quarterback they loved in this year's draft, use the sixth pick in the draft on one (after fixing the offensive line in free agency), and be set for the next five years.

This is not a perfect world.

After watching a week of Senior Bowl practice, there are individual traits about individual quarterbacks in this class that are appealing. As a group, they're a little underwhelming. Not like 2013 bad (the E.J. Manuel, Geno Smith, Mike Glennon class), but not quite to the 2021 level (Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Justin Fields, Mac Jones) either.

We haven't had a good look at Matt Corral yet, but the rest of these guys all have holes. Malik Willis has the biggest upside, because he has the strongest arm of the class. But he could use the time that a team may not be able to afford to give him. Kenny Pickett gives me strong Andy Dalton vibes, and that's not the insult people might perceive it to be. Dalton was quite good early, and helped a team with a stable coaching staff and a strong defense to some playoff games. I could see Sam Howell, in the right environment, succeeding. Desmond Ridder looks like a solid B- student, neither inspiring me nor filling me with dread that he can't play at all.

The Panthers will research all these guys exhaustively, because they have to decide if they can play. If they're convinced one of them can be the guy, you might lean in that direction. It's unclear at this moment in February if they are so convinced.

Kenny Pickett

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If Samir Suleiman is hired by the Steelers as GM, would the Panthers get two years of third round picks for losing a minority front office member? Always enjoy the bag and your content. — John, Mint Hill, NC

They would. The Chiefs just got a pair of thirds when the Bears hired Ryan Poles as general manager, and the Browns added two picks when the Vikings hired Kwesi Adofo-Mensah as well.

While the Panthers don't want to lose Suleiman (he was just promoted to vice president of football administration), the league did put those latest adaptations to the Rooney Rule in place to encourage teams to stock the pipelines with young minority talent.

Top-down fixes haven't worked, so the hope would be that encouraging teams to hire more young cap managers and quarterbacks coaches and quality control coaches of color (and possibly get compensated for them) could help increase the number of minority hirings in GM and coach and coordinator roles in the future. It can't hurt, and is absolutely needed.

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Not really a question this time. LOVED Sebastian Gilmore at the Pro Bowl!! Asked Dalvin Cook what was his favorite part of the Pro Bowl. Cook answered with a couple of things then Sebastian looked at him and asked "Is that it??" I nearly spit out my coffee!! Got to love these kids.!! — Howard, Star, NC

Kids, they say the darnedest things (Howard and I might be the only ones who remember Art Linkletter).

And yeah, that was cool and fun, which is what the Pro Bowl is supposed to be.

I know way too many super-serious football people who worry about the sanctity of the game, or whatever. They sound like golf writers sometimes.

Football season is long enough already (and longer this year than ever), so expecting the best players to run Oklahoma drills in practice and try to knock each other's heads off in a meaningless game seems silly to me.

The Pro Bowl ought to be something akin to the old Battle of the Network Stars specials (which Howard and I also are the only ones old enough to remember), and they're leaning that way with the skills challenge. I have no interest in seeing Stefon Diggs get wrecked across the middle of the field in an exhibition game. I have an acute interest in seeing Diggs wreck a folding table while jumping off a truck and making a catch. I bet the Bills fans did too.

So let's have some fun, let's have some cocktails by the pool maybe, and let it be a reward for the best guys in the league after a long year. And definitely, let's get the kids involved.

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Hi? — Randy, Goose Creek, SC

Nah, not more than medium, I hope. I assume you're asking about potential guacamole and bean-dip consumption Sunday. I alternate between these twin delights of football watching the way I love my two children — equally and fervently.

Fresh, hand-crafted guac is a simple and elegant pleasure, unless you have your own artisanal molcajete and like to be a show-off about it. In which case, a tray of ultra-processed seven-layer dip you bought out of the ice-bucket on your way into Harris Teeter will do just fine. That stuff has been dinner more than once, and if you're out of chips, it's perfectly fine to eat it with a spoon. Or your fingers, if you're alone, which you probably are if you eat too much bean dip.

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Food for thought: I've got two questions for you. First, what do you think about keeping Brady Christensen at left tackle, as he held his own last three games, grab a free agent guard, trade the pick, filling other needs and use the pick on a middle linebacker we so desperately need? Second, which do you prefer: Eastern Carolina sauce or South Carolina sauce? Last question is most important lol — David, Farmington, MO

Again with the food questions. I feel seen.

Actually, this may border on the kind of discussion of religion you're not supposed to have at a football party, because people get all worked up about their sauces. I prefer a simple vinegar-and-red pepper flake sauce as is indigenous to the Eastern half of North Carolina, as I like the way the acid and heat cuts the richness of a smoked pork shoulder. But some people prefer the mustardy kind, and even though that's not my deal, I want everybody to be able to be happy with what they enjoy, as long as it doesn't hurt anybody.

(Also, when I was in Mobile last week, we stopped for a meal at Dreamland BBQ, at the suggestion of my brother, the barbecue judge [He judges for sport, and not just at smoked meat competitions. He can be a lot sometimes, but we love him]. Asked our server if I could get some sauce to take home, and she comes to the table with a huge jug, asking me if this was the amount I wanted. Apparently, I look like a guy who consumes barbecue sauce a gallon at a time.)

The Christensen as tackle-or-guard question could also inspire a kind of religious fervor this offseason, and it's an important one.

There are a couple of important facts to remember. One, free agent left tackles are worth it, but they're super-expensive. So if the goal is to get a lot of other stuff, I could understand signing a good free-agent guard, and letting Christensen stay at tackle for now.

But if one of those top three tackles (Evan Neal, Charles Cross, Ikem Ekwonu) is there at six, I think you have to take one of them. After being a pick away from Penei Sewell falling into their laps last year, it will be painful if all three of those guys are gone before the Panthers pick (though it could easily happen). If I'm the GM (and they haven't let me be yet), I try not to overthink it. If a top tackle is there, take him, and let Christensen become his Travelle Wharton for the next few years. That worked out OK in the past, but it was a long time ago.

Brady Christensen

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First time writing in Darin! I like your idea of using cap space and multiple draft picks to bring a lot of bodies in for our offensive line. My question who is the Panthers QB in Week 1 next season? Do they give Sam Darnold the reins after a very poor season? He started off great, but his reads were not good. His line was not good, and Christian McCaffrey got hurt which obviously makes a difference. Or do the Panthers let Ben McAdoo choose his own guy? — Josh, Lyon Mountain, NY

Welcome to the party Josh, we talk a lot of football here. And apparently, food. Both are things that people seem to enjoy. Sometimes. And in the spirit of friendship, we'll make you this week's Ask The Old Guy Friend Of The Mailbag, and get the glamorous swag coming your way as soon as the second shipment of it comes in.

A good quarterback question is always food for thought, too.

This time of year, it's important to remember that multiple things can be true at once. So even though you're correct that line problems and the absence of McCaffrey didn't help Darnold, it's also correct that there were problems that stemmed from Sam himself.

It won't necessarily be up to McAdoo, the new offensive coordinator, but I do expect there to be another quarterback in here this offseason. And depending on the grade of quarterback he happens to be, he'd likely have a chance at that job.

But right now, it's impossible to know what's available to them. A year ago, the Panthers were trying to trade for Matt Stafford. Funny how things work out.

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I wanted to give you some suggestions from my point of view since I think you have failed a little in the decisions. We need to keep Stephon Gilmore, Zane Gonzalez, and Frankie Luvu, and they certainly have to look for a QB in the draft. — Cesar, Mexico City, Mexico

We mentioned the drafting a quarterback stuff earlier, but I think Cesar is on it in terms of free agency.

Keeping Gilmore around at the right price would be helpful, for a young secondary that includes top talents Jaycee Horn and CJ Henderson. And Gonzalez would also be good business, since he hit 17 straight field goals before his pre-game injury in Buffalo that led us to the Brandon Zylstra Era. Luvu's another good call, as he adds an energy to both defense and special teams that anyone would want.

But here's the weird part about free agency: Players have choices too. When you get to the market, the option of playing in a warmer place or in exchange for a larger pile of money or for a team that is ready to win a Super Bowl right now is available to you.

Keeping all three of those guys is possible, Cesar, but in case they don't, please remember it's not exactly me making the decisions.

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Given the changes needed on the roster for the offense, and the coaching changes taking place on that side of the ball, do you see the Panthers having another 2020 style draft where every pick they have is used on the offense? — Tom, Hebron, KY

All linemen, all the time. I dig it.

One of the great time-killers of the offseason is the mock draft machines out there on the internet. It's great fun to log on, pick six linemen, and consider it a productive day.

And it's tempting. But they do need other stuff.

At the moment, the Panthers have six picks. There could be more by the end of draft weekend. They still need some reinforcements at linebacker, defensive tackle, and safety as well, so I don't know if it's responsible to go all-in.

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How would you rank OL positions? It seems to me LT, RT and C are the most important (in that order), while it's easier to find players who can be successful playing OG. I would argue that the Panthers should prioritize acquiring a veteran LT (like Terron Armstead) in free agency and use their first-round pick on center Tyler Linderbaum. Based on your OL positional rankings, and the availability/scarcity in free agency and the draft, how would you rebuild the offensive line this offseason? — Mark, Huntersville, NC

In a vacuum, the most important offensive line spot is left tackle, followed by center. But in a vacuum, there's all kind of dust and dog hair and probably some bean dip remains flying around too.

Signing Armstead would be a turn-key solution to a couple of problems at once. He's one of the best in the game, and if he was the guy, you slide Christensen inside, and Brady can start one of the handful of games if Armstead misses time. But that's going to cost you.

Guards are generally more available, which is why they're cheaper. So in a vacuum, it might be easier to sign a really good guard, and hope that one of those top three tackles falls in your lap during the draft. Linderbaum's certainly a worthy target, though you'd probably prefer to pick him later than sixth.

That would require someone wanting to trade up. Just as it would help the Panthers for someone to take a quarterback or a corner early (to push a lineman to their spot), it would be easier to trade if there were a bunch of quarterbacks that interested people. There doesn't seem to be, at the moment. That could change. It's early, yet.

So if I'm making the call, I'd lean toward signing a proven commodity like Armstead, because there's a real chance those top three tackles are gone in the top five and I don't want to be left holding the bag. But it also ain't my money.

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That will cover us for this week, gang. Stay tuned, and we'll try to mailbag as often as possible this offseason, even if it's not every week.

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