Cam Newton Panthers
Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Panthers’ Super Bowl window closed just as fast as it opened. It was just a few years ago that Carolina took to Levi’s Stadium for Super Bowl 50 against the Denver Broncos. The ensuing blowout loss and quarterback Cam Newton’s lack of maturity following an MVP season seemed to be the biggest story.

Carolina was going to be back. It was just a matter of time. Since then, the Panthers have posted a 29-34 record, fired longtime head coach Ron Rivera and are likely going to trade Newton here soon.

So what went wrong?

The bottom line: Starting with former general manager David Gettleman, a lack of success within the Panthers’ front office played a major role. Newton’s injury-plagued ways over the recent past and regression on the field has also been a major part of the team’s fall from grace. But there is a lot more to look at.

More than anything, I have to focus on Carolina’s unwillingness to build a capable offensive line in front of Newton. It’s led to some major injury issues, which have helped paved the way for his imminent departure from the Panthers.

It’s about the draft, stupid: For some reason, Gettleman failed to realize that cultivating an environment of winning and helping Newton succeed needed to be done through the draft.

  • Gettleman oversaw five drafts as the Panthers’ general manager. All said, he used two selections in the first two rounds on offensive linemen during that span. This is not indicative of the modern NFL, when teams tend to value pass protection.
  • It’s not a coincidence that Newton was sacked an average of 37 times during this span and hit the second-most times of all quarterbacks in the NFL. It’s also not a coincidence that injuries have plagued him recently.
  • Gettleman did not have a plan to address these issues. Honestly, he didn’t even attempt to address them. That’s a big black eye for the current New York Giants general manager.

Newton is not without blame: I’d be remiss to ignore the role that the former NFL MVP has played in Carolina’s decline over the past several seasons.

  • The backdrop here is Newton’s regression on the field. Prior to suffering the Lisfranc injury back in Week 2 of last season, the former MVP had lost each of his past eight starts.
  • All said, the quarterback has accounted for 65 touchdowns and 44 interceptions since the start of the 2016 season after compiling a 35-10 TD/INT ratio during his MVP campaign back in 2015.
  • Playing loose on the field and with his health has been a major component to Newton’s injury woes. That can’t be blamed on the Panthers’ previous front office regime.

The NFC South: Starting with the Atlanta Falcons a few years ago and continuing with the recent success we’ve seen in New Orleans, the Panthers have fallen behind in the division.

  • One year after Carolina’s surprise trip to the Super Bowl, the division-rival Falcons infamously blew that big lead in Super Bowl LI. While the Falcons have taken a step back in reasons seasons, the New Orleans Saints have filled that void.
  • New Orleans boasts a 37-11 record over the past three seasons, having won the NFC South three consecutive years.
  • The direct correlation here has been a lack of talent infusion in Carolina since its trip to the Super Bowl. Now that Luke Kuechly has retired and with Newton on his way out of town, this is not going to change any time soon.

Moving forward: Now that I have looked at three primary reasons Carolina has fallen off the map, there’s some good news on this front. The Panthers now have the pieces in place to expedite a rebuild.

  • Despite what I noted above, it’s not all doom and gloom in Carolina. In terms of the team’s long-term success, the pieces seem to be in place.
  • Owner David Tepper doled out a seven-year contract to new head coach Matt Rhule. He made former LSU passing game coordinator Joe Brady a lucrative offer that he could not turn down. These two moves provide hope moving forward.
  • We previously focused on Carolina potentially tanking this upcoming season as a way to land Trevor Lawrence in the 2021 NFL Draft. In terms of the team’s long-term approach, that might make the most sense.
  • In fact, moving down from the seventh pick in next month’s draft as a way to stockpile future draft assets could be in the cards here. Cam Newton will also net something in a trade.
  • With Christian McCaffrey as the face of the franchise and innovative offensive minds calling the shots, the Panthers are in a pretty good position.

To end

In no way does that above-mentioned point take away from a simple point. Carolina’s previous brass closed the window on the team’s Super Bowl aspirations as fast as it opened. It’s hard to provide a counter-argument to that.

The Panthers are now in full-scale rebuild mode. How general manager Marty Hurney and Co. react to that new reality this offseason will lay the groundwork moving forward.

What we do know is that Tepper, Hurney and Rhule are in this for the long haul. If the three can work together, the rut we currently see these Panthers in will be a thing of the past. Whether that means tanking for Mr. Lawrence remains to be seen.