(Leading up to the start of free agency on March 14, Panthers.com will look at the state of each position group. The series begins today with the quarterbacks.)
POSITION REVIEW: Chatter last offseason centered around Cam Newton heading up an "evolving offense," designed to move away from things that defenses figured out in 2016 and to further protect Newton. The idea was for Newton to take advantage of "lay-ups" in the passing game and take it easy in the running game. Rookie running back Christian McCaffrey served as a safety valve and an extension of the running game, but Newton was as involved as ever as a runner, though he did so more wisely in a way that better protected himself. Though the results were hit-and-miss, it all added up to five more wins and a playoff berth.
STATS OF SIGNIFICANCE: Newton completed 21 more passes on 18 fewer attempts in 2017 to increase his completion percentage from 52.9 to 59.1. He also recorded career highs in rushing attempts (139) and yards (754) and averaged 5.4 yards per carry, his highest average since 2012.
WORTH WATCHING AGAIN: Newton finally added the slide to his running repertoire outside the pocket, and his elusiveness paid off in the pocket as well, with the Vikings serving as the victims on a play that few can make in an important and impressive Week 14 victory.
OFFSEASON STORYLINES: Newton will undergo another adjustment this year to offensive coordinator Norv Turner, hired to replace Mike Shula, who was Newton's coordinator the past five seasons and his quarterbacks coach his first two years in the league. Newton per head coach Ron Rivera is "excited and nervous" about the change, which will pair him with one of the most renowned coordinators of the last 25-plus years. Also of note is whether Derek Anderson will re-sign to back up Newton – as he's done since Newton was a rookie – and/or if the Panthers will draft a quarterback for the first time since drafting Newton in 2011.
HOPE FOR 2018: Turner said the nervousness that Newton feels can be a good thing, that it's a natural reaction to change that can fuel improvement. That will be the goal for Newton next season, as it always is, but it will be particularly interesting to see how he responds to a new voice calling the shots. Turner has a history of bringing out the best in quarterbacks but doesn't have much history with quarterbacks that can use their legs like Newton. That can be a change for the good for Turner – what coach doesn't want more to work with? Still, it will be interesting to see how the two work together as the Panthers work to recapture some of the offensive magic that made them to league's highest scoring team in 2015.
Behind Newton? Even if it is Anderson again, it realistically won't be Anderson much longer. The Panthers valued Garrett Gilbert enough to protect him with promotion to the 53-man roster in October, but they should also keep a close eye on how the draft shakes out especially on the third day. They aren't going to sign Kirk Cousins in free agency or draft Baker Mayfield in the first round, but players like Senior Bowl standouts Kyle Lauletta (Richmond) and Mike White (Western Kentucky), or Charlotte area native Riley Ferguson (Memphis) could be considerations.