Has any player in NFL history ever won Defensive Rookie of the Year and followed it up with Defensive Player of the Year? Has any other team ever collected the hardware the Panthers have so quickly? – Jim in Hopkins, S.C.
You're obviously referring to linebacker Luke Kuechly's doubly good showing, having just won Defensive Player of the Year one year after winning Defensive Rookie of the Year. It has been accomplished just one other time, with Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor winning the rookie award in 1981 and player of the year in 1982. Actually, Taylor was both rookie and player of the year in 1981.
As for your other question, you're referring to the fact that in a three-year period, the Panthers have captured four different major awards: Kuechly's two, Ron Rivera's coach-of-the-year honor this year, and Cam Newton's offensive-rookie-of-the-year award in 2011.
My research shows that since the Panthers debuted in 1995, no other team has won four of those five major awards (the Panthers are missing NFL Offensive Player of the Year) in any three-year span. The Baltimore Ravens won four awards in a two-year span (2003-04) but just three different ones, capturing Defensive Player of the Year twice with Ray Lewis and then Ed Reed winning it. The St. Louis Rams won four times in three years (1999-2001), but three of the wins went to Marshall Faulk as Offensive Player of the Year.
Any way you slice it, it's a pretty impressive run and is the only one that involves a player on defense, a player on offense and the head coach.
Does the franchise tag count against a team's salary cap for the year? If so, how can we sign Mario Addison and the other 20 open spots on the roster? Thanks for taking my question. Keep Pounding! – Brian in Burbank, Calif.
The franchise tag, an option that allows teams to sign one impending free agent to a one-year contract each year, does count against the salary cap. The cap figure for defensive ends is estimated to be in the $12 million range.
Asked days after the season what his thoughts were on using the franchise tag – an option that one-fourth of NFL teams exercised last year – Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman said, "This will be my first time really looking at it, and I'm going to have to figure it out."
Whether the Panthers sign Hardy to a long-term deal, use the franchise tag or don't sign him, the reality is that not all of the team's 21 potential unrestricted free agents will be back next season. Financial considerations are a part of the reason, but player performance and what other free agents become available from other teams also will play into a complicated decision-making process.
We'll slowly see how it all shakes out, but based on Gettleman's first offseason, I have confidence in his ability to put together a competitive roster.
With the cap room issues and so many free agents, and the fact no one has repeated as NFC South champions, can we expect to have as strong a year next year or is this going to be another rebuilding year? – George in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
My expectations are that the Panthers can pick up where they left off, especially with such a talented defense led by Kuechly and a franchise quarterback in Newton at the commands. But to say that nothing is guaranteed in the modern-day NFL is an understatement. What were the realistic expectations for the Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans this time last year coming off a combined regular season record of 25-7? Certainly not the 6-26 mark they posted in 2013.
Bryan, not really a question; I just wanted to make an observation. I truly believe since this franchise started we are in the best position for sustained success. Dave Gettleman is proving he has what it takes to be a great GM, and Ron Rivera proved he is a good coach. Everybody was all over Rivera for not getting the team to this point sooner but look what he came in with: a rookie quarterback and a very young team. Winning organizations aren't built overnight. I'm excited for the future of the Panthers. – Matt in Dubuque, Iowa
Perhaps I should have just let Matt answer the previous question. In all seriousness, though, I agree with his thoughts. The Panthers have never enjoyed back-to-back seasons with above-.500 records. They appear to be poised to end that.