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

Richard RodgersJul 1 05:03p

Green Bay Packers TE Richard Rodgers could see more playing time in 2015, according to Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com. Rodgers played 528 snaps, while fellow TE Andrew Quarless played [ More ]

Rob HouslerJun 30 03:13p

Cleveland Browns TEs Gary Barnidge, Rob Housler and Jim Dray could all end up taking over for TE Jordan Cameron, who is now with the Miami Dolphins. Head coach [ More ]

Sam BradfordJun 29 05:22p

Philadelphia Eagles QB Sam Bradford (knee) is expected to be in the final phase of his rehabilitation from a torn anterior cruciate ligament once training camp begins. Bradford's second [ More ]

Charles JohnsonJun 29 02:02p

Minnesota Vikings WR Charles X. Johnson appears to have everything it takes to produce in the NFL, according to offensive coordinator Norv Turner. 'He's got great work ethic, and [ More ]

C.J. SpillerJun 28 09:02p

New Orleans Saints RB C.J. Spiller has a perfect skill-set for head coach Sean Payton's system, which relies on getting the ball to players in space, according Chris Wesseling [ More ]

Tony MoeakiJun 25 07:12p

Atlanta Falcons TE Tony Moeaki will compete with TE Jacob Tamme for the Falcons' starting tight end job during training camp. QB Matt Ryan praised both tight ends for [ More ]

Kelvin BenjaminJun 25 03:52p

Carolina Panthers WR Kelvin Benjamin's reported weight gain this offseason is being overblown, according to general manager Dave Gettleman. Gettleman expects Benjamin to be ready to go for training [ More ]

Antoine CasonJun 25 03:03a

Free-agent CB Antoine Cason (foot) will miss the 2015 season due to surgery he underwent on Tuesday, June 23. Cason (Ravens) did not specify what type of surgery he [ More ]

Marvin JonesJun 24 09:13p

Cincinnati Bengals WR Marvin Jones (ankle, foot) did not play in 2014 due to multiple foot and ankle issues, but he is healthy and was impressive in organized team activities (OTAs) and minicamp.

Keith WenningJun 24 02:43p

Free-agent QB Keith Wenning (Ravens) signed with the Cincinnati Bengals Wednesday, June 24. Terms of the contract were not disclosed.

Pierre GarconJun 24 02:23p

Washington Redskins WR Pierre Garcon could be featured more often in the passing game this season based on the offseason workouts. Garcon often lined up to the right of [ More ]

Martavis BryantJun 24 01:43p

Pittsburgh Steelers WRs Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant are expected to compete for the No. 2 wide receiver job during training camp. Both players performed well during offseason workouts.

Peyton ManningJun 24 11:53a

Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning was the subject of preliminary trade discussions with the Houston Texans, according to a source. The talks occurred before Manning restructured his deal and [ More ]

Rueben RandleJun 24 10:53a

New York Giants WR Rueben Randle was the best receiver on the field by a wide margin during spring practices, in the opinion of beat writer Jordan Ranaan. Randle [ More ]

Chris IvoryJun 24 10:43a

New York Jets RB Chris Ivory is listed as the starting running back entering training camp, according to beat writer Rich Cimini's unofficial depth chart. RB Bilal Powell is [ More ]

Devonta FreemanJun 23 10:22a

Atlanta Falcons RB Devonta Freeman enters training camp ahead of RB Tevin Coleman on the depth chart.

Joseph RandleJun 23 10:02a

Dallas Cowboys RB Joseph Randle appears to be the clear leader at running back, and it's his job to lose in training camp.

Ahmad BradshawJun 22 11:32p

Free-agent RB Ahmad Bradshaw (Colts) has been suspended one game for violation of the league's substance abuse policy. If he signs with a team he must sit out for the first week.

Terrelle PryorJun 22 04:33p

Cincinnati Bengals WR Terrelle Pryor was claimed off waivers by the Cleveland Browns Monday, June 22, according to a source.

Fred DavisJun 19 06:02p

New England Patriots TE Fred Davis was released Friday, June 19.

Dennis PittaJun 19 02:22p

Baltimore Ravens TE Dennis Pitta (hip) was not medically cleared to practice in minicamp as he continues to recover from his second dislocated and fractured hip in as many [ More ]

Isaiah CrowellJun 19 01:22p

Cleveland Browns RB Isaiah Crowell could be the workhorse back if his ball security improves, according to offensive coordinator John DeFilippo.

Devonta FreemanJun 19 01:12p

Atlanta Falcons RB Devonta Freeman will be used in a lot of different ways, including as a receiver, according to head coach Dan Quinn. 'I knew Devonta had terrific [ More ]

Chris OgbonnayaJun 19 11:32a

Free-agent RB Chris Ogbonnaya (Giants) announced his retirement Friday, June 19.

John MoffittJun 18 11:02p

Free-agent OG John Moffitt unretired Wednesday, June 17, and cleared waivers Thursday, June 18. He is free to sign with a team of his choosing. The Philadelphia Eagles, Miami [ More ]

Terrelle PryorJun 18 09:32p

Free-agent QB Terrelle Pryor is going to give it a shot at playing wide receiver in the NFL. Some teams have already expressed an interest.

Allen RobinsonJun 18 09:22p

Jacksonville Jaguars WR Allen Robinson was described as 'unbelievable' by QB Blake Bortles Thursday, June 18. 'He's definitely a threat now in the red zone. ... He's physical. He [ More ]

Terrelle PryorJun 18 05:32p

Cincinnati Bengals QB Terrelle Pryor was waived Thursday, June 18.

Taylor ThompsonJun 18 05:32p

Tennesse Titans TE Taylor Thompson was waived Thursday, June 18.

Matthew MulliganJun 18 04:32p

Free-agent TE Matthew Mulligan (Titans) signed an undisclosed contract with the Buffalo Bills Thursday, June 18.

Carlton MitchellJun 18 04:22p

Free-agent WR Carlton Mitchell (Buccaneers) signed an undisclosed contract with the Atlanta Falcons Thursday, June 18. WR Shane Wynn was waived.

Daniel ThomasJun 18 04:12p

Free-agent RB Daniel Thomas (Dolphins) signed a one-year contract with the Chicago Bears Thursday, June 18. Financial terms were not disclosed.

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