The Carolina Panthers made a gutty run into the postseason, but couldn’t knock off the defending champs.
Quarterback Cam Newton had a noteworthy performance, but turned the ball over too often.
Turning the page to the offseason, FOXSports.com takes a look at three issues the Panthers must address.
Newton’s future: Entering the final year of his rookie deal, the Panthers must make a decision if Newton will be the team’s franchise quarterback. The former No. 1 overall pick’s camp reportedly had talks before this season and they are supposed to heat up in the coming months. While the Panthers made an unlikely postseason run, Newton only led the team to five regular-season wins. Despite an injury-ravaged campaign and erratic play from the pocket, Newton could be scratching the surface on his quarterback play. Newton’s $14.6 million cap hit next season might force the Panthers’ hand to spread out that guaranteed money over the life of an extension. Time will tell on the Panthers’ quarterback situation.
Upgrading the pass rush: The strength of this team is certainly the defensive line, but upgrading the pass rush should be a priority. Tallying 40 sacks, the Panthers had a respectable total, but they could get better. The team spent a high-round pick on Kony Ealy and have productive players in Mario Addison and Wes Horton, but the absence of Greg Hardy was glaring.
What’s the catch?: General manager Dave Gettleman made a bold move last offseason by releasing longtime wide receiver Steve Smith. Instead the team signed journeymen players and spent their first-round pick on Florida State product Kelvin Benjamin. Benjamin enjoyed a stellar rookie season, making 73 receptions for 1,008 yards and 9 touchdowns. The Panthers still could stand to enhance their wide receiving corps with players whom are more sure handed.