CHARLOTTE – Head coach Matt Rhule can't wait to have an offseason.
Assuming, of course, he's able to have one.
A day after the regular season came to a close, Rhule described his first year without OTAs or a normal offseason program as something he had to endure, with the added complications of COVID-19 adding layers to what was already going to be a complicated process.
"Oh yeah, there's no doubt about that," Rhule said Monday. "We're at the end of the year now, I can speak. During the course of the year, I try not to answer things like that because I think it sends a bad message to the team in terms of making excuses.
"But if we're being honest, I've said the things we did well, the things we didn't do well, it was tremendously unfortunate that we didn't have an offseason."
Some have argued that the time in April, May, and June isn't particularly helpful. NFLPA president and Browns center JC Tretter wrote last week on the union website that this season's success shows that offseason programs aren't a prerequisite.
"We do not need to be brought in during April-June to practice against each other - it's simply unnecessary," Tretter wrote.
To suggest that Rhule disagrees with Tretter would be underselling the point.
"I think it's vitally important that we have it," Rhule said flatly. "And I hope that we have the full offseason."
Of course, he can't know whether that's possible right now, with the country still in the middle of a pandemic. But his general hope is that he'll have the time to work with his team he didn't have as a rookie head coach.
He referred to the eye problems he struggled with during training camp as another issue for him, but he hopes coming through a difficult time will help him and the team in the future.
"Every bit of adversity, while it stinks at the time and people start to question, 'Hey is this going to work?' it's so much better in the long run," Rhule said. "It stretches you, it makes you grow, it makes you learn. So as far as this year, yeah, I would have loved to have had the offseason and all those different things. But I tell you what, I went through a training camp, meeting players for the first time, couldn't see really well, in pain all the time, this was one of the hardest years of my life.
"We competed right to the end through it. Doing that, now I'm sitting here looking at it like I can't wait to attack next season, I can't wait for this offseason. We handled this year, and I think we did it with class. Do I feel like I got cheated a little bit? Yeah, maybe. But it'll pay off in the long run. I believe that with all my heart."
TOO MUCH TOO SOON
Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey admitted his own frustration with his season Monday.
Injuries limited him to just three games this year, and he said the last one was partially his fault. McCaffrey said the quad strain that kept him out of the final four games came when he pushed himself while coming back from the shoulder injury suffered in Kansas City.
That has him reconsidering his offseason plan.
"Every year that's kind of the challenge is to figure out exactly what's the perfect way to create a machine going into the season," McCaffrey said. "That's going to be my goal this offseason, starting now, is to prepare the best way possible. Sometimes that means resting, and sometimes it means not going out and training.
"I can be my own worst enemy sometimes, and that's one thing I've learned too is, just be healthy. Too much is not always good."
WAITING TO HEAR
Veteran defensive tackle Kawann Short said he was encouraged by his progress from his second straight season-ending shoulder surgery.
He described it as an eight-month injury, and he's three months into the rehab now.
What he doesn't know is how he fits into the future. He's turning 32 in February, and he's only played five of the last 32 games. He’s also carrying the second-biggest salary cap hit on the team for 2021, which may make the economical choice a simple one for a team that could sure use someone who does the things he does.
Short said he hasn't talked to anyone in the organization about his status.
"I think that's a discussion we'll have the next couple of weeks or so," Short said. "It's a business, so I understand. I take it with a grain of salt if they don't or if they do. I'm still going to put myself in position to get ready to play next year. . . .
"We're all grown here. So you know what it is. This is a 'what can you do for me now' business, so for me to have injuries back to back, it definitely put that in your head, whether the team wants you or not. At the same time, I can't worry about it. We'll cross that bridge when we get there. Right now, I'm still preparing like I'm going to be here next year, to help this team win, and get us to the playoffs."
View photos from the Panthers locker room as players swap jerseys, sign gear and clean out their lockers after the 2020 season.