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Ask The Old Guy: What kind of week has it been

Robert Hunt

CHARLOTTE — Been quite a five days around the office. And it's early yet.

People going. People coming. More people coming than going.

And it's a lot to process. Some favorites left, and that's hard. You get used to familiar faces, and change is not something people always welcome (says the man in the sunglasses from 1989). On the other hand, the Panthers went 2-15 last year, so change was both deserved and expected.

So new general manager Dan Morgan and new head coach Dave Canales walked up to the tree of free agency and gave it a good shake, as they needed to. And in the first 12 hours, there were about $150 million worth of contracts for 650 pounds of guards. And while the pace has slowed since the dizzying first few days, this job is far from over because it's a significant job.

One co-worker walked past in the hall this week, eyes wide, shook their head and said: "Whole new team." And that's largely true.

The Panthers went into the offseason with exactly 20 players under contract for the 2025 season. Then they cut three of them, leaving less than a third of a regular season roster that you think might be part of the future. So yes, this is a fairly extensive project, which you kind of expect after the season they just endured.

This offseason remains a living, breathing thing. But what we've gathered thus far is this is going to be a very different team in 2024. It needed to be.

And the mail's coming in as fast as the change, so let's get to it.


So, based on a destroyed defense and no improvement in the skill positions, who do the Panthers take with the first pick next year? — John, Charlotte

Ah yes, the immediate reactions; before all the stuff happened. My favorite interaction on Twitter the other day was from a fan who was angry when the Falcons acquired Kirk Cousins early in the negotiation period before the Panthers had done anything. "And the Panthers have done 0," he (it was certainly a he) replied. Me: "It's 2:40 p.m."

A lot of the angst people felt about the initial moves (not all of it) dissipated with time. Time is very good at doing that. But when you're conditioned to a social media existence, you want everything right now and more of it.

Because they're clearly not finished putting this thing together, and getting Diontae Johnson from the Steelers offers a clear upgrade at a skill position, perhaps an extremely significant one.

So we'll keep you posted on the mock drafts from this year (we updated our Mock Draft Tracker with the 33rd and 39th picks this week, but it's perhaps premature to lock in draft order for 2025. How good will they be? Who knows. But it's unfair to think it's going to be more of the same since the change is so profound.

Diontae Johnson


Hi Darin! I'm a big Luke Combs fan, and - like him - I just want to scream, "What the heck are we doing???" Burns, Luvu, Bozeman, and the list seems to go on and on. I fully expected that there was going to be attrition, BUT geez, gutting our defense and getting so little in return? I guess, realistically, this kind of stuff has to happen. After all, we're not talking about a playoff-caliber team here. But man, some of these moves don't seem to make a lot of sense. OK, thanks for letting me vent - I feel a little better now. I think I'll fry up some liver mush and make myself a sandwich. Can I fix one for you, too? — Jeff, Concord, NC

Venting is fine, healthy even. And I get it. Brian Burns is one of those rare combinations of young and productive at a premium position. And Frankie Luvu was the kind of high-energy player who flies around (often at his own peril), has an awesome nickname, and also happens to be a wonderful human being. Everybody loved Frankie and he made a ton of plays. And Bradley Bozeman was part of a group that helped define the end of the 2022 season, probably the last time it was reasonable to feel good about the product on the field. Plus, he was one of the most active players in the community I've ever met. He wasn't here long, but he put down roots fast and deep.

But again, the results haven't been there, and the broader frustration is what has taken hold. That's why I get Luke Combs venting; lots of people are. They want to see wins.

But it was also telling when Combs showed up on the Pat McAfee show to be baited into expounding on his viral tweet, that by the end of the conversation he also said he would "go down with the ship." This cat met Sam Mills at a Burger King when he was 5 years old, so he's emotionally invested in this product. It's easy these days to bail on something when it gets hard. But my guess is if the Panthers win in the next few years, Luke's going to be front and center for his home team.

Again, no one knows how long it will take to get there. The project is extensive, and as busy as they are, you can't fix everything in one offseason. There will be holes in this roster when they go to camp. But it's possible — if not likely — that this roster is more stable now than it was two months ago.

So I'm not mad at Luke, because he cares. Beats the alternative. And also because that version of "Fast Car" with Tracy Chapman at the Grammys was amazing. In fact, I'm going to listen to it right now. And the only thing that would make it better was if Jeff brought over a couple of liver mush and egg sandwiches.


Why do you think the draft pick compensation was so low for Brian Burns? — Anthony, Virginia Beach, VA

Well, as I said to my boss when it was time to go over my expenses, "It's complicated; bear with me."

But the short answer is "yesterday's price is not today's price." At the time when the Rams made the now-mythical offer of a second-rounder and two ones for Burns (in October 2022), it wasn't as easy a call as many consider it to be now.

For one thing, the Panthers had just traded Christian McCaffrey, had a dozen games left to play under an interim coach, and they didn't want to bail on an entire season (a season which turned around and was one bad-luck injury [Jaycee Horn's broken wrist against the Lions] away from a possible if not likely playoff berth). Plus, because those first-rounders the Rams offered were in 2024 and 2025, you have to consider their value at the time of the offer. The conventional wisdom in the league is that a future draft pick is discounted by a round per year in the future. So, in 2022, a 2024 first is valued like a second, and a 2025 first is valued even less.

But there's also the fact that Burns had a year and a half's worth of contract at the time, and there was none this week when he was dealt to the Giants. That cost certainty has value all its own. Guys with time left on their deals are more valuable than guys without.

So this week, when a new administration effectively traded him for a two and two fives, it left a sour taste in a lot of mouths, thinking about what might have been. I get it. The easy thing to do in hindsight is to view it through the prism of the current situation. That requires no intellectual curiosity. It wasn't such an easy call in October 2022, when you'd have to look at an entire locker room with a straight face and tell them to compete without two of their best players the rest of the year. This is still a game played by people, not just a simulation played out with numbers on a spreadsheet.

There's also the matter of turning the page, getting what you can, and moving forward. That's the decision that was made, and with a $24 million boulder removed from the salary cap, the Panthers have been quite active this week, as you may have noticed. They also have a pair of picks in the top 40 of a draft deep at positions they need, and that's not nothing.

Was hanging onto Burns in the face of a desperate offer in 2022 the right decision? It's easy to question it now. It's more nuanced when you consider the human factors at the time and the fact that Burns was supposed to be a key part of what they thought was going to be a better team in 2023.

It didn't work out that way. So they moved forward.

Dan Morgan


Hi, Darin, what are your concerns about the Panthers trading DJ Moore instead of Brian Burns to the Chicago Bears? My second question is, do you think the Panthers are HUGE underdogs going into 2024? Thank you for your time. — Brayden, Charlotte

Now, here's another piece of hindsight I'll briefly entertain.

When the Panthers were moving up to the No. 1 overall pick last year, the Bears wanted the picks plus either Burns, Derrick Brown, or DJ Moore.

Again, in hindsight, you'd throw in the guy who's no longer here and keep Moore. But if you want to make it a simple math problem, elite pass rushers are more valuable than top wide receivers. Look at Burns' current contract (close to $30 million a year) compared to Moore's (just over $20 million a year). That's a pretty good expression of value. And if you compare the one Brown will sign next, it will become clearer. Of the three of them, moving Moore was the logical call.

Would you do it differently now? Maybe. Would they do a lot of things differently now, knowing how last year worked out? Certainly.

As for the degree of underdog they may or may not be, I can't speak to that, as I don't invest in those markets. But I did run into a cowboy recently who adopted a rescue dachshund. He wanted to get a long little doggie.


Hi Darin. I hope you are having a great day. Well, I'm sad. I saw that Donte Jackson had been released. He has been so much fun to watch over the years, and he had grown so much from the impulsive young player he was when he first became a Panther. I get that it's a business, and teams have to do what they think will benefit them in the long run, but it doesn't make it any easier for a sentimental soul like me. I'm still struggling with the Christian McCaffery and DJ Moore trades. Any suggestions on how to move on? — LeeAnne, Lincolnton, NC

LeeAnne, I'm sorry you're sad. A lot of people are around these parts this week. Donte was a quality human being, and when someone is here for more than a minute, you also see them grow as people. The Donte who walked in the door a stubborn (and mouthy) rookie was very different than the father and eventual team captain who left this week in a trade. Seeing people change over time should endear them to you. He grew, and fans grew closer to him.

The emotional attachment is why most people watch ball games instead of stock tickers.

But now that sports are businesses, change is going to be part of the deal. Before Donte got here, I bet you were fond of Josh Norman. And now that Donte's gone, there will be another.

Diontae Johnson, the man acquired in this week's trade with the Steelers, could be a candidate. He's got an opportunity to make a lot of plays. He plays a position of extreme need. He's got some personality too, and if you read Kassidy Hill's profile of him on his first day in the office, you might find yourself liking him a little more. It might also be Robert Hunt, who appears to be the perfect combination of good at his job, large in the way that even large people aren't, and funny. Looking forward to getting to know him too.

Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened. And I know that's an easy thing for people to say and not just because it's corny. I'm so glad you didn't see me when I watched the Joey Votto tribute video the Cincinnati Reds put out this week. He's my all-time favorite player on my boyhood favorite team, and it's sad to imagine him not playing for them this year. But man, all the cool memories (Donte pick-sixes, or Votto homers and buying Zack Cozart a donkey). Hang onto those. Make new ones. And my advice to those considering following sports is to make sure you're prepared to be vulnerable. The people are always going to change. Sam Mills retired, and so did Luke Kuechly. Julius Peppers walked away (but then he came back). Jake Delhomme got cut, and so did 89 and Cam Newton.

If you don't believe me, listen to Luke Combs. He's not angry so much as he's hurt. And it's OK to hurt, if only because it means you weren't wasting your time caring.


After the Burns trade, which I didn't want to happen but wasn't opposed to if we got compensated, it feels hard to be optimistic about the upcoming season. We did get more linemen, and hopefully, the line is healthy, but we just developed a guy to trade him for way under value. What happens if we develop Bryce Young? Are we going to trade him for two sixth rounds and a sandwich? I know y'all don't make the decisions; I just want to know how you feel about it. — Frank, Charlotte

We'll find out, and we'll find out long before a decision gets made on Bryce.

If you want a barometer on where the new front office puts its priorities, let's see what happens with Derrick Brown. He's in the option year of his rookie deal, but he's a candidate for an extension. (Which he has earned, by the way.)

At a certain point, a franchise can't keep trading away first-round talent like Burns and Moore and McCaffrey and be sustainable. So if Brown gets extended this offseason, you'll know these guys are serious about getting out of that rut.

In the same way, Derrick can be an anchor against the run — one of the best in the league — he can also stop the diaspora of talented players. So stay tuned. An extension for Brown will mean more than just wealth for one player. It will be a statement of intent, a powerful gesture, a signal to those who follow that they're serious about draft and develop and reward.

Derrick Brown


Do you really think Bryce Young could ever become Steve Young? If so, what is the rest of the league missing because no one believes in the kid but Carolina? — Eddie, Charlotte

I'm not sure I agree with either end of Eddie's thesis.

For one, Steve Young might be the most underrated quarterback in the Hall of Fame, and no one is asking Bryce to be that kind of guy right now.

But I also think the general recognition around the league was that he was a victim of his surroundings. Perhaps you were aware that the Panthers offense last year was a mess, structurally, physically, and emotionally. There was very little right about it at any point all year. I mean, last in the league in yards, and never holding a lead for a single second in the fourth quarter pretty much tells the story.

CJ Stroud and the Texans made Revisionist History the most popular class on campus because, prior to the draft, very few people thought Stroud was the better prospect. But the Texans put him in good positions and surrounded him with the right people, and Young never enjoyed that luxury.

We'll start to get a better understanding of his trajectory this year. With Canales, he has a coach who has demonstrated the ability to maximize a quarterback's ability. By spending a pile of loot on guards this week, they've hopefully settled the revolving door at that position. By trading for Johnson, they've given him a legitimate target to pair with Adam Thielen.

We'll see together how it turns out, but I disagree with the idea that no one thinks it can ever work, just because of last year's systemic failures.

Bryce Young


Hi Darin, First of all, I am a big fan of yours, and I really enjoy reading your articles, so keep up the great work. My question is with regard to the Panthers training camp taking place in Charlotte. Will it be free and open to the public to attend? And especially with regard to opening practice back to camp, will fans be required to have tickets in order to attend practice? Thanks, and Keep Pounding. FYI, beer and a hot dog are on me at the media softball game. — Joe Bruno, Charlotte

See, there are reporters out there who just wait for people to hand them things (or worse yet, think they're entitled to them), and then there are reporters who grind.

Joe Bruno does the work, ladies and gentlemen. He's out there FOIA'ing the Spotify wraps of the city council, and he's working every angle to get a scoop on the Panthers, including trying to butter up the Old Guy (which he's smart enough to know works almost every time).

We'll keep you posted on camp plans, Joe. In the interim, we'll make you this week's Friend Of The Mailbag, and get the appropriate honorarium on the way to you soon.

Bonus points if you wear it while covering the next highway spill of an unusual item.


I've been waiting for this for quite a while. Months... years it seems. The anticipation has been palpable. But finally it's here... The Bojangler is back!

Confession time: I'd never had one, but I do like fish sandwiches. The FOF from the "Arches" place is a lunch staple when I want something a little different. It's been at the pinnacle of the fast-food "former swimmer" category since its inception, but your rave reviews of the Bojangler piqued my interest.

You always recommend getting the Bojangler on a biscuit rather than the customary bun. I was very interested in trying that. But how do I know if I prefer it on a biscuit if I've never had it on a bun? And if I try it on a bun now and on a biscuit tomorrow, will my hunger level or other factors change my opinion? I had to come at this from a more scientific approach. I ordered both.

First, I tried it with a bun. Great sandwich. The fish was crisp on the outside and pleasantly flaky on the inside. Not too much tartar sauce and a full slice of cheese. (Already one up on the FOF.) The bun was better than the average bun, light and flavorful.

After a couple bites of the sandwich, I switched to the biscuit. Same great ingredients, but the biscuit top split, allowing tartar sauce to escape onto my hands. A little messy but not necessarily a detriment. The biscuit tasted a little dryer than the bun, but not enough to dissuade me from eating it. I did finish the biscuit before returning to the sandwich and finishing it.

Both are great additions to the fish sandwich category. Personally, I like the bun a little better, but if it was always served on a biscuit, I would still order it. In any case, I am now a Bojangler fan. Thanks for the suggestion!

(Side note: when ordering, speak very clearly. In addition to my fish entrées, I wanted seasoned fries and a large Cheerwine. Somehow, I ended up with a spicy chicken biscuit combo. Breakfast tomorrow!) — Chris, Greensboro, NC

Oh man, the Mailbag is full of men of distinction this week. First, Joe Bruno is out here hustling every angle for information, and now longtime FOTM Chris is using the scientific method to determine the best way to consume my fish sandwich of preference every Lent.

I wonder if I'd eat as many Bojanglers if they were available all year. Probably not. Scarcity increases demand, etc.

But man, that crispy seasoned fish on the savory perfection of a Bojangles biscuit, I could use one right now. The good news is that at my Bojangles of preference, the AI order-taker has now come to recognize and not be confused when I order a biscuit instead of a bun. Either that, or it just knows my voice and either pushes the button on my usual morning order (sausage and egg biscuit, no cheese, Bo-rounds, half-and-half tea), or the daytime order it has come to learn.


Do you feel that Chuba Hubbard can be a full-time running back for the Panthers? I know that a good running back certainly benefits from a good offensive line, but if Carolina were to strengthen their O-line, do you think he has the skill to be Carolinas starting halfback? — Mark, Windsor, CA

If there was anything positive to take from last season's offense (and it wasn't a lot), it might have been Hubbard's emergence as a potential lead back. He ran 238 times for 902 yards. That 3.8 yards per carry is nothing to have a parade for, but considering the circumstances (all of the guards and the inability to pass), it's actually quite admirable.

Two things to love about Hubbard: 1) His effort. He runs angry and isn't afraid of contact. 2) The way he works. He wasn't a natural catcher of the football, but he's spent the time to become competent at it. Hubbard and Tommy Tremble stay after every practice to catch more balls, and he also takes the early bus on game days so he can get some work with the Jugs machine before each game. You have to respect the effort to take a weakness and change it.

And he certainly has the condition to improve on last year's output. The 650 pounds of guards they signed this week (Hunt and Damien Lewis) can't hurt. That bumped Austin Corbett in to center, and Corbett has responded to the move by growing a beard. "New position, new look," Corbett said. With a bearded Corbett in the middle, this looks like a line you can run behind.

Canales said he wanted to be stubborn about running, and Hubbard definitely has the ability to run stubbornly.

Diontae Johnson, Chuba Hubbard


Hi Darin, Thailand Tony here again. I wanted to get your opinion on whether Payton Wilson, from my alma mater, NC State, would pique the Panthers' interest at the 33rd or 39th pick in the draft. Would he be available at those picks? Yeah, I know; he's a defensive player, and the Panthers are sort of focusing on offense. But some of the recent signings have shown some interest in defense. I'd love to see a Luke Kuechly-type linebacker representing my Wolfpack on the Panthers.

Not much to add on the culinary side here other than my wife and I managed to squeeze in a date night while our daughter was in leadership training the other night, and we had the best steak we have ever had at a local eatery in Chiang Rai. They covered it in butter that had something like Dijon mustard in it. Thai beef is terrible, so they import it from Australia. It was AWESOME! — Tony, Chiang Rai, Thailand

Say what you want about the Burns trade, but the deal opened a lot of doors for them in the draft. Having picks 33 and 39 gives the Panthers a certain flexibility to look at other areas and draft the best player available at two spots. Wilson could qualify to be one of those. He's obviously a talented dude, but his injury history is obviously a concern. So he could be in that range.

The Panthers signed Josey Jewell to pair with Shaq Thompson inside, so they're covered for starters. But that's why this free agency period is so important. You never want to draft to fill a positional need, or you end up with Dave Gettleman's three-cornered draft of 2016.

Morgan was still here as a linebacker when the Panthers drafted Jon Beason, and that's the best way to draft — before you need a thing.

Also, butter fixes everything. And are you sure that wasn't kangaroo?

Payton Wilson


Taking over a team after a 2-15 season will have its challenges. Like everyone, I hoped for more for Burns and hated to see Luvu gone. As John Fox would say, it is what it is. Players want to go play for a winner; they, too, have expectations for instant gratification. I see tremendous improvement on the OL, and we now have the money to make more moves. We also have a decent bag full of draft picks. We can not totally fix this team in one offseason, but improvement is expected. Do you think we have the resources to also fix the defense we have torn apart? Can this group of TEs perform? Can our RBs perform with this new OL? The questions can run into eternity this year. But hope springs eternal.

We wanted the change, and now it is here, embrace it. — Stephen, Columbia, SC

So many questions. But I dropped this in here because Stephen has attained the kind of offseason Zen you need. As much as some people appear to enjoy griping about what has happened previously, things are very different here now. The windshield's bigger than the rear-view mirror for a reason.

I bow to Stephen's Buddha nature.


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.

Really enjoyed the video Ms. Hill and you did at the combine, was very insightful. — Nick, Charlotte

Thanks, we have to knock out another Hurry Up soon. We certainly don't lack for material.

What is the coolest car you've ever seen in the player's parking lot? Seems like there would be a good bit of coolness in that lot. — Deric, Gastonia, NC

It's true. There are many, many fine luxury sedans and sports cars in that lot. Shaq Thompson contributes mightily to that category. Then there are cats like LaBryan Ray, still driving the Nissan Altima he's had since his junior year in high school. Respect. But there have been a few truly distinctive ones, including Alex Armah's, which was mirrored like cop sunglasses.

But the truth is, nothing's been cooler than Teddy Bridgewater's old minivan. If you roll into an NFL parking lot in a minivan, you are truly secure, and it speaks to a certain je ne sais quoi. I mean, you know what they say, if the van's a rocking, don't bother knocking. Minivans mean business.

For me, Terrace Marshall Jr. is perhaps the most surprising early-round draft pick in recent years that we've had who never panned out. I think it's best for all involved for him to get a fresh start, but do you think Carolina can get anything - even if only a seventh-round pick - for him, or is this likely going to just be an outright release? I don't ever see him being a stud, but I have a feeling that wherever he lands, he'll end up being a solid WR3 or WR4 — Jason, Blue Springs, MO

I'm hesitant to declare either way on him yet because last year's offense was so broken that it's hard to tell whether individual players are good or not. There have been signs of talent there, so giving up on him doesn't make sense while he's on that rookie contract. He's got the size and the physical ability, and having that kind of complement to a couple of smaller guys like Johnson and Thielen makes sense. But it's also on him to make some plays when OTAs start, because this administration isn't beholden to anyone.

Good Morning, Darin; as we sit here waiting for 4 p.m. and the start of the NFL League Year, my question for you is, when do you sleep? — Dana, Charlotte

June, usually. But this time of year, you get a nap in when you can, whether that's at stoplights, under my desk for 10 minutes, or while watching college basketball.

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