2013 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

LaMichael JamesApr 17 10:04a

According to a league source, the San Francisco 49ers have been shopping RB LaMichael James. He finds himself behind RBs Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and perhaps Marcus Lattimore on [ More ]

Mike BrownApr 16 11:33p

Jacksonville Jaguars WR Mike Brown signed his exclusive-rights free agent deal Wednesday, April 16.

Eli ManningApr 16 11:33p

Former New York Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said in a radio interview this week that it is 'ludicrous' to say QB Eli Manning is declining. 'There's been no [ More ]

Sidney RiceApr 16 08:03p

The Seattle Seahawks are re-signing WR Sidney Rice to an undisclosed one-year deal Wednesday, April 16, according to sources.

Dwayne BoweApr 16 07:03p

Kansas City Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe pleaded guilty Wednesday, April 16, after being arrested last November for marijuana possession. He pleaded guilty to lesser charges of littering and defective [ More ]

Arian FosterApr 16 04:53p

The Houston Texans may consider selecting a running back during the middle rounds of the 2014 NFL Draft that could become RB Arian Foster's backup in the future.

Chris JohnsonApr 16 04:43p

The New York Jets signed RB Chris Johnson to a two-year deal worth $8 million, with another $1 million in incentives available.

Terrelle PryorApr 16 04:33p

The Oakland Raiders hope to trade QB Terrelle Pryor before the start of the offseason program Monday, April 21.

Clay MatthewsApr 16 04:13p

Green Bay Packers LB Clay Matthews (thumb) said he likely will be limited during offseason workouts because of his surgically repaired thumb.

Chris JohnsonApr 16 03:53p

The New York Jets will use RBs Chris Johnson and Chris Ivory as a tandem this upcoming season and have them split carries. RB Bilal Powell will be the team's No. 3 running back.

Dan SkutaApr 16 03:33p

San Francisco 49ers LB Dan Skuta (foot) is not expected to need surgery on the foot injury that bothered him during the 2013 season. Skuta met with a foot [ More ]

Gus BradleyApr 16 02:53p

Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell and head coach Gus Bradley watched Georgia QB Aaron Murray participate in his pro day Wednesday, April 16.

Reggie BushApr 16 02:13p

Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said RBs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell likely will receive similar workloads this upcoming season than they did during the 2013 season. Bush [ More ]

Cheta OzougwuApr 16 01:53p

The Chicago Bears have waived DE Cheta Ozougwu.

Mike JamesApr 16 12:53p

Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Mike James (ankle) said he is happy with the progress he has made in his recovery from an ankle injury and that he has been [ More ]

Carson PalmerApr 16 12:43p

Arizona Cardinals QB Carson Palmer said he would understand if the team selects a quarterback during the 2014 NFL Draft, because he knows the team has to think about [ More ]

Josh FreemanApr 16 12:23p

The New York Giants have agreed to terms with free-agent QB Josh Freeman (Vikings). Terms of the contract were not disclosed.

Rolando McClainApr 16 12:13p

Updating previous reports, retired LB Rolando McClain failed his conditioning tests during his workout with the Baltimore Ravens. The test consisted of six timed 150-yard runs.

Golden TateApr 16 10:53a

Detroit Lions WR Golden Tate said he thinks he can be a 'more explosive Lance Moore,' referring to the former New Orleans Saints receiver. Moore caught 65 passes for [ More ]

Matt FlynnApr 16 10:01a

Green Bay Packers QB Matt Flynn is expected to compete with QB Scott Tolzien for the backup quarterback job, but head coach Mike McCarthy anticipates keeping three QBs on [ More ]

Rolando McClainApr 16 12:03a

Retired LB Rolando McClain (Ravens) worked out for the Baltimore Ravens Tuesday, April 15, as he attempts a comeback. The workout wasn't a smooth one in terms of conditioning, [ More ]

Chris JohnsonApr 16 12:03a

The New York Jets are sticking to their budget/value system. While they want free-agent RB Chris Johnson (Titans), they will not 'overpay' for him. The depressed running back market [ More ]

Aldon SmithApr 16 12:03a

San Francisco 49ers LB Aldon Smith hasn't only lost the benefit of the doubt with the team, but he probably won't play with the team in 2014, according to [ More ]

Malcom FloydApr 15 11:53p

San Diego Chargers WR Malcom Floyd (neck) continues his rehab from a neck injury, but his status is still uncertain. When the team begins voluntary workouts April 22, Floyd [ More ]

Chris JohnsonApr 15 07:53p

Free-agent RB Chris Johnson's (Titans) visit with the New York Jets reportedly went well Tuesday, April 15, but he left without a deal. Other teams are involved with him, too.

Rolando McClainApr 15 07:53p

The Baltimore Ravens worked out LB Rolando McClain, and it reportedly wasn't a success. McClain didn't finish his conditioning test and didn't perform drills.

Terrell ManningApr 15 05:43p

The Minnesota Vikings claimed LB Terrell Manning off waivers from the San Diego Chargers Tuesday, April 15.

Adam PodleshApr 15 05:13p

The Pittsburgh Steelers signed free-agent P Adam Podlesh (Bears) to an undisclosed one-year deal Tuesday, April 15.

Allen ReisnerApr 15 03:53p

The Minnesota Vikings announced Tuesday, April 15, that they've signed free-agent TE Allen Reisner (Jaguars) to an undisclosed deal.

Daniel KilgoreApr 15 03:23p

San Francisco 49ers OG Daniel Kilgore was found not guilty of public intoxication related to his arrest in January in Tennessee. His case was dismissed following his appearance in [ More ]

Matt FlynnApr 15 02:23p

The Green Bay Packers agreed to terms on an undisclosed deal to re-sign QB Matt Flynn Tuesday, April 15, according to a source.

Dion JordanApr 15 01:53p

Miami Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey is expecting big things from DE Dion Jordan in his second season this year. He's a very talented player and this is a [ More ]

RSS Feeds

NFL News:
 
Player Notes:
 
Forum Posts:
 

© 2014 RealTime Fantasy Sports, Inc.
Email Us  ·  Call Us 636.447.1170  ·  Lost Password
Advertising represented by USA Today Sports Media Group