2015 DRAFT GUIDE
Panthers turning attention to bright future

By STEVE REED - AP Sports Writer
    2014-01-13 14:29

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - One day after the getting bounced from the NFL playoffs the Carolina Panthers turned their attention to doing something no other team in franchise history has done: reach the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.

The Panthers have been to the playoffs five times in 18 seasons, but never in consecutive years.

All-Pro fullback Mike Tolbert says the Panthers are out to change that.

''I think we're on the verge of something special, so I'm excited about the future,'' Tolbert said.

The Panthers returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2008 going 12-4, winning the NFC South and capturing the No. 2 seed in the playoffs. It all came to an abrupt end Sunday with a 23-10 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, but coach Ron Rivera still called it a successful season.

''We learned a lot about who we are as a football team, a lot about our football players,'' said Rivera, who was 13-19 in his first two seasons as Panthers coach. ''... I'm pretty fired up about that. I think going forward it means a lot of good things.''

But Rivera cautioned that ''if we don't learn from the games we played this year then we wasted this season. We are not going to do that.''

Like every other NFL team, the Panthers have holes to fill and free agents to re-sign.

The most pressing need is getting defensive end Greg Hardy under contract. The 25-year-old Hardy is due to become an unrestricted free agent and is expected to command a huge payday after collecting 15 sacks this season and 26 over the past two years.

''He's an explosive guy, a playmaker who causes problems up front,'' Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly said. ''He rushes the passer and if you have a disruptive passer who can bump inside and rush like Greg does, that is really helpful.''

Hardy is one of eight starters set to hit the free agent market.

Other key players with expiring contracts include longtime left tackle Jordan Gross, wide receiver Brandon LaFell, safety Mike Mitchell, cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and kicker Graham Gano.

Carolina also must decide if now is the right time to extend quarterback Cam Newton's contract. Newton is technically under contract through 2015 providing the team picks up his fifth year option on his rookie deal, but they're now allowed to extend his contract.

Carolina's could use some help blocking up front for Newton and more weapons in the passing game after finishing 29th in the league in that category.

Adding help in the secondary is also an area they'll need to address.

So while the loss to the 49ers still lingered in the air Monday inside a somber locker room, there was overriding sense of optimism that better things are just around the corner.

Gross, who has been with the Panthers since there only Super Bowl season in 2003, believes the core of the team is firmly in place - built around a franchise quarterback in Newton and a strong, young defense led by Kuechly. Carolina's defense finished second in the league this season in points allowed and yards allowed.

''This team is definitely set up for long-term success,'' Gross said. ''I think that this is just the beginning, I really do. It's great to know that the team is in a healthy position now. ... This team has as good of a chance as anybody of being successful for a long time.''

As he cleaned out his locker, Kuechly said he hates to see the season end because the team had developed such good cohesiveness.

The Panthers were 3 1-2 games behind the Saints in the NFC South five games into the season before storming back to win eight straight games and 11 of their last 12 to take home the division title.

''We accomplished a lot and did some things we wanted to do this year,'' Kuechly said. ''We got the division, we made the playoffs. Now we just have to build to next season.

''I think we're trending up. We have a good mix of guys feeding off each other. We have a good set of building blocks.''

---

Online: http://pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Fantasy Football Player Notes RSS FeedPLAYER NOTES

Carlos HydeJul 29 11:13a

San Francisco 49ers RB Carlos Hyde is not believed to be injured and shouldn't be on the non-football injury list for long. Hyde suffered a calf injury during spring [ More ]

Tom BradyJul 29 09:23a

Updating previous reports, New England Patriots QB Tom Brady posted on Facebook that he replaced his broken phone with a new one after his attorneys told the NFL 'my [ More ]

Tom BradyJul 29 01:53a

Updating a previous report, New England Patriots QB Tom Brady could have had his suspended reduced based on a series of conditions. According to a source with knowledge of [ More ]

Eric BerryJul 29 01:43a

Kansas City Chiefs SS Eric Berry (illness) has been cleared to take the practice field with the team Wednesday, July 29. He was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma in December [ More ]

Geno SmithJul 28 08:03p

New York Jets QB Geno Smith could be benched if he struggles early in the season, according to head coach Todd Bowles Tuesday, July 28. 'If you feel that [ More ]

Ryan WilliamsJul 28 05:53p

Dallas Cowboys RB Ryan Williams (knee) was placed on Reserve/Injured Tuesday, July 28.

Brodrick BunkleyJul 28 05:43p

New Orleans Saints DT Brodrick Bunkley (undisclosed) was released with a failed physical designation Tuesday, July 28.

James WrightJul 28 05:33p

Cincinnati Bengals WR James Wright (knee) was waived with an injured designation Tuesday, July 28.

Darrin ReavesJul 28 05:33p

Carolina Panthers RB Darrin Reaves was waived Tuesday, July 28.

Tom BradyJul 28 05:13p

New England Patriots QB Tom Brady is facing a four-game suspension, but the Patriots have done fairly well without him. In games Brady has missed since he became a [ More ]

Tom BradyJul 28 04:53p

New England Patriots QB Tom Brady has given permission to the NFL Players Association to appeal his case in federal court, according to a source. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell [ More ]

Lamar MillerJul 28 03:43p

Miami Dolphins RB Lamar Miller may see an increase in carries in 2015, according to head coach Joe Philbin. 'If he's cranking and he got it 24 times a [ More ]

Le'Veon BellJul 28 03:03p

Pittsburgh Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell's original three-game suspension has been reduced to a two-game suspension Tuesday, July 28.

Tom BradyJul 28 02:53p

New England Patriots QB Tom Brady's four-game suspension has been upheld by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell Tuesday, July 28.

Victor CruzJul 28 02:23p

New York Giants WR Victor Cruz (knee) is supposedly faster now than he was before he tore his patellar tendon last season, according to teammate CB Prince Amukamara. Amukamara [ More ]

Ryan WilliamsJul 28 11:53a

Dallas Cowboys RB Ryan Williams (knee) was waived/injured Tuesday, July 28.

Josh FreemanJul 28 10:43a

Free-agent QB Josh Freeman (Dolphins) was re-signed by the Miami Dolphins Tuesday, July 28, according to his agent, Ron Freeman.

Tom BradyJul 28 10:13a

New England Patriots QB Tom Brady is expected to have his four-game suspension upheld, a source told ESPN's Stephen A. Smith. Smith said on 'ESPN First Take' Tuesday, July [ More ]

Chris CooleyJul 27 10:42p

Free-agent TE Chris Cooley (Redskins) is still considering a comeback, although he said Monday, July 27, in a radio interview that he does not anticipate a team signing him [ More ]

Josh McCownJul 27 10:32p

Cleveland Browns QB Josh McCown enters training camp as the team's starting signal caller, but head coach Mike Pettine said Monday, July 27, that McCown is not guaranteed of [ More ]

Markus WheatonJul 27 07:12p

Pittsburgh Steelers WR Markus Wheaton is believed to have performed the best among the wide receivers during offseason workouts.

Brandon LaFellJul 27 05:22p

New England Patriots WR Brandon LaFell (foot) was placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list Monday, July 27.

Jadeveon ClowneyJul 27 05:12p

Houston Texans LB Jadeveon Clowney (knee) was placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list Monday, July 27.

Kevin BrockJul 27 05:02p

Free-agent TE Kevin Brock (Bengals) signed with the New Orleans Saints Monday, July 27.

Matthew TuckerJul 27 05:02p

Philadelphia Eagles RB Matthew Tucker (undisclosed) was waived from the Non-Football Injury list Monday, July 27.

Da'Quan BowersJul 27 04:52p

Free-agent DE Da'Quan Bowers (Buccaneers) signed an undisclosed deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Monday, July 27.

Jonathan MartinJul 27 03:02p

Carolina Panthers OT Jonathan Martin (back) has chosen to retire. Martin will need surgery on his injured back.

Tom BradyJul 27 02:02p

New England Patriots QB Tom Brady's appeal of his four-game suspension still has not been announced, and the NFL is now open to talking with the NFL Players Association [ More ]

Doug MartinJul 27 12:02p

Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Doug Martin could be in line for a big, bounce-back year, in the opinion of beat writer Roy Cummings.

Casey MatthewsJul 27 09:12a

Minnesota Vikings LB Casey Matthews (hip) was placed on season-ending Injured Reserve due to a hip injury Sunday, July 26.

Casey MatthewsJul 26 02:52p

Minnesota Vikings LB Casey Matthews (hip) has been placed on injured reserve due to a hip injury that occurred during the team's offseason program.

Blair WalshJul 26 02:32p

Minnesota Vikings PK Blair Walsh signed a four-year contract extension Sunday, July 26, worth $14 million. The deal includes $5.25 million in guaranteed money.

RSS Feeds

NFL News:
 
Player Notes:
 
Forum Posts:
 

© 2015 RealTime Fantasy Sports, Inc.
Email Us  ·  Call Us 636.447.1170  ·  Lost Password
Advertising represented by USA Today Sports Media Group