Six reasons (beside Rhule’s history) to keep a positive vision on 2022, the QB ‘upgrade,’ as Panthers get Mayfield cheap

Baker Mayfield will continue to be a MAJOR source of interest in Charlotte, now that Positive Reason #1, Panthers GM Scott Fitterer, has fixed their QB situation, again. Props to Baker for converting a manly chunk of guaranteed salary into incentive pay, its what moved the needle. Cam is *definitely* off the board.

Walking to the terrific Queens University campus is less than a mile, and its truly a jewel in Charlotte’s crown. It was an idyllic 4th of July, with a car parade, and young families – Yo! Nick Savarino with three little ones – pouring in from all directions.

Another under-loved QB comes to Charlotte

I actually cheered when Matt Stafford got out of Detroit last year. Stafford seemed like a good player whose Lions always lost, wasn’t going anywhere (but years he would never forget, as per his phone commercial). Then the Rams asked what it would take to replace Jared Goff with him, and it paid off in a Super Bowl win, as Stafford got good ball to all their receivers.

Fitterer brought Sam Darnold to Charlotte last year after three poor seasons with Jets, under nearly the same circumstances as Mayfield’s deal. Less draft capital (a conditional #5) spent, and Mayfield doesn’t have the $18.85MM option tag fans have opined about Mr. Tepper picking up too quickly (though in line with CBA). He also pulled a 3rd round pick out of his hat to get Mississippi QB Matt Corral this year.

Lets hope Mayfield brings a real chip on shoulder attitude regarding nobody wanting him for $18 million. Darnold beat his old Jets to start last year, but Baker hanging a quantity of whupa** (300 yards, 3 TDs enough?) on Cleveland to start 2022 season will have fans singing ‘Sweet Caroline’ SO GOODs! for him.

Mayfield keeping DJMoore, McCaffrey, Robbie Anderson et al happy with distribution like Stafford’s would be a darn good first step. “Super Bowl” shouldn’t pass anyone’s lips.

–Me, and IMHO, minimum number of Ws for Rhule’s Rule on ‘major 3rd year improvement’ should be nine wins. It’s still Tepper’s $$$.

CMC is *always* open, or just turning and give the rock to him is legitimate. There’s a TOTALLY new O-line, $$$ well-spent, including local product Ikem Ekwonu, the stud OLT Panthers have missed forever, props to Jordan Gross. Podcaster Colin Cowherd feels Baker could be best QB in the division soon, because they’ll give him every chance to produce- and Brady has to retire sometime.

BIG Reason #2 – Christian McCaffrey

As noted in his Panther bio:

Despite only playing seven games in 2021 due to injury, Christian McCaffrey became the fastest player to reach 3,000 receiving yards and 3,000 rushing yards in NFL history, doing it in his first 57 career games.

Christian McCaffrey is a documented high-achiever, and he’s ready to tear it up again, after most of two years on the shelf (99 carries/442 yds./1 TD in 2021). Its difficult to judge whether he made the Panthers offensive line look better than it was with the 1000 yards rushing and receiving year, but that’s kind of the standard he’ll be looking at. Running behind a much improved O-line should be gratifying to all.

Yes, “staying healthy” often comes up, but stop that noise about wearing out/breaking CMC now. Long-time Panther linebacker Thomas Davis https://www.panthers.com/team/players-roster/thomas-davis/ had knee surgeries that would have ended many careers, and he had 14 seasons of thrills to his credit.

Anyone who thought McCaffrey was trade bait for DeSean Watson trade was nuts. HE sure didn’t like riding the bench, wasn’t given the choice.

#3 – How much better can Defense be?

Lets make two things clear- the Panthers D was #2 in the league, allowed 305 yards/game – giving up 23.8 points was 21st (of 32). The cupboard clearly isn’t bare on that side of the ball, and Defensive Coordinator Phil Snow isn’t riding on reputation at 67. https://www.panthers.com/news/phil-snow-excited-by-all-his-new-options Some pretty solid flag planting was done last year, 36 sacks, coming from a bottom three in league ranking in nearly every category the year before Snow arrived.

JEREMY CHINN is a bright and effective weapon wherever he lines up, Jaycee Horne has lots of peoples attention, coming back from a broken foot. Burns, Brown, Shaq Thompson, several free agent signings, the squad has risen from road kill to quite respectable. Hasson Riddick’s 11.5 sacks/12 tackles for loss/18 QB hits is a free agent loss (3 yr./$45MM with Eagles), but what comes out of Spartanburg should thrill fans often.

In a division with The GOAT (Brady), Atlanta and the Saints look vulnerable at QB – Panthers won’t fear Jameis Winston at the controls. If/when the defense stops giving up short scoring drives and the offense puts points on board (17.9ppg, 29th) vs. three and outs, those sacks become more important. It would still be better if ‘Action’ Jackson used speed to tip balls away vs. whacking receivers immediately after catches.

#4 – Baker Mayfield – Size of fight in the dog

They used to respect a guy being gutsy, playing through injury, and that obviously cost Baker with stats. Brownies bet the franchise on Deshaun Watson, he was out on salary, not Good Baker-Bad Baker performance. He lit things up with 26 TD-8 INT season and a playoff win against arch-rival Pittsburgh the year before.

7/6/22 – Me, okay with Baker Mayfield (and McCaffrey) playing with chips on their shoulder this year.

The first time he throws a 60 yard rainbow to the flag that DJ Moore comes down with, I won’t be the only Panther fan to spit my beer in joy. Cam NEVER had that throw.

STATS don’t tell the story of fight in the dog analogies, and his history of Attitude-talent, bouncing from Texas Tech to OK and a national championship and Heisman is well known. As with Cam and Darnold, all that sort of gets baked into the way we’ll be looking at results. The first time he throws a 60 yard rainbow to the flag that DJ Moore comes down with, I will spit my beer in joy. Cam NEVER had that throw.

New Offensive Coordinator Ben McAdoo’s teams in NY were run-oriented, but CMC is going to be a huge pain for linebackers on all the check down passes he’ll get. *Maybe* they’ll even throw it to Hubbard if they lighten CMC’s reps. Nobody wants him or DJ Moore out in space – tough to get on the ground.

#5 OFFENSIVE LINE, Especially OT Ikem Ekwonu

The Panthers are back in Spartanburg, SC after a new practice facility-headquarters deal in Rock Hill blew up. In 2018, the heat index was brutal at 10 a.m., most spectators wisely in minimal shade.

There was rejoicing all around with the ‘local boy makes good’ choice of Ekwonu, a Providence Day (Charlotte) grad who played collegiately at North Carolina State. At 6’4″, 320 pounds, he’s the epitome of protecting a quarterbacks blind side, and wowed! all with pancake blocks on a regular basis. https://cdtalententerprises.com/2022/03/25/panthers-6-pick-cant-fill-two-major-needs-so-7-ideas-for-gm-fitterer-to-consider-along-the-way/

Taylor Moton was considered an underachiever in Year 2, but he’s a stud at 28 now, all right? One of five players in league to play every snap the last four years. Got the contract extension last year to prove it. Christiansen will apparently get his shot at LG, and along with several solid free agent signings, Panthers will now have depth to run OC McAdoo’s run-oriented offense, after years of moving players all over when injuries occurred.

There’s some evidence that the line which was good enough to help McCaffrey get that rare 1000-1000, might have hidden some blemishes.

The difference McCaffrey makes to an offensive line is elemental, his ability to go long is inspirational – hold your block that fraction of a second and CMC could be checking his style on the big screen for last ten yards of a score. While previous OC Joe Brady’s offensive scheme didn’t impress the NFL, McAdoo has Moton and Ikem where he wants them, and James Campen is a well regarded line coach. https://www.panthers.com/news/panthers-adding-james-campen-offensive-line-coach

#6 Winning cures Everything

Perhaps its a little easier to understand how losing organizations fans are somehow cheered by the start of another year. Stafford would be a poster child for that – Detroit always felt if they got a few more quality players (a few? sorry…) they could be competitive, because they had an above average QB. That Charlotte, after a pair of 5 win seasons, smells that same air is encouraging.

In the 2015-16 Super Bowl year, fans here reallllly weren’t believing getting there was possible, not until they mauled Dallas 33-14 on Thanksgiving to get to 10-0. They also thought they’d been Carolina nice enough to Darnold to get him thinking-playing righter down here, so adding even a definitely better QB isn’t going to move a lot of needles. Just sayin’.

Its way too early for any kind of projection, although my suspicion about nine wins earns Rhule his contract is a flag in the sand. Tepper decided not to cut bait OR fish on an $800 million Rock Hill HQ, but eating the last years of Rhule’s contract if he’s found wanting in victories/growth doesn’t seem likely to be necessary. Neither will any further discussion of Cam somehow getting a spot on even a 90-man roster in Charlotte.

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