Surprisingly, the Carolina Panthers avoided drafting an offensive tackle in the first two rounds of the recent NFL draft.
Considering that Cam Newton has been battered as much as any quarterback in the NFL over the years, one has to wonder what the Panthers logic is here.
After signing Michael Oher away from the Tennessee Titans in March and picking Jonathan Martin up from the San Francisco 49ers via the waiver wire, Carolina seems confident in terms of blindside protection for its franchise signal caller.
Ron Rivera says that Michael Oher will be "very key" to this team. Rivera said he's been impressed with him so far.
— Steve Reed (@SteveReedAP) May 2, 2015
In a recent article, ESPN’s David Newton indicated that Oher is slated to be the starting left tackle, but will likely receive competition from Martin for that job during training camp.
The issue here is that neither of these veteran options offer much in terms of pass protection. Oher developed a role as the Baltimore Ravens starting left tackle shortly after they selected him in the first round of the 2009 draft. After one year as Joe Flacco’s blindside protector, Oher relinquished that role. He then returned to left tackle in 2012, finishing the season giving up 10 sacks. This past year, in Tennessee, Oher graded out 64th among 84 qualified NFL tackles in pass protection (via Pro Football Focus, subscription required).
We can surely see how Carolina’s confidence in Oher might be a bit unwarranted. And in reality, the team needs to do a better job keeping Newton upright. If that doesn’t happen, the former top pick will continue to find himself dealing with injuries.
According to Pro Football Focus, Newton was faced with pressure 36.2 percent of the time he dropped back to pass last season. Considering the Panthers have in the past been a run-first team, this trend is more than worrisome.
Instead of focusing on upgrading along the offensive line during the draft, Carolina exhausted a first-round pick on linebacker Shaq Thompson before trading up for wide receiver Devin Funchess in the second round. There might have been some need for reinforcements at these positions, but offensive tackle far outweighed those needs.
The other thing to look at here is the fact that Newton is entering a contract year. The two sides have been really quiet on the extension front, which indicates the former Heisman winner will play out the final year of his deal. Short of Carolina letting Newton test the open market next March, there’s no real reason to believe he won’t be with the team in 2016.
However, the Panthers brass isn’t exactly making this an attractive long-term option for Newton. With aging running backs in the backfield and no real franchise guy at either tackle position, the star quarterback may end up coming to the realization that general manager Dave Gettleman and company aren’t fully prepared to invest in his health. If that’s the internal thought process from Cam’s camp, there could be a major contract issue looming.
The simple fact that Carolina “addressed” its pass protection issues by signing two veteran tackles who wouldn’t start for a majority of the teams in the NFL has to be a tad worrisome to fans of the defending NFC South champs.
Photo: USA Today Sports