NFL Nation: Jerry Richardson

Davis best choice for Payton nominee

December, 17, 2013
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I wrote earlier today about how Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis was making a big impact off the field as well as on it.

The Panthers obviously felt that as well.

[+] EnlargeThomas Davis
AP Photo/Bob LeveronePanthers owner Jerry Richardson says linebacker Thomas Davis is a "leader who is unselfish with his time and energy to help those around him."
On Tuesday, the team nominated Davis as one of 32 players -- one from each team -- for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award. Players are selected for their community service as well as excellence on the field.

Davis exudes both.

As a player, the team captain already has a career-high four sacks and 128 tackles for the league's second-ranked defense. He was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance at Minnesota in Week 6 and the Defensive Player of the Month for November in helping Carolina to a 4-0 record.

He's not only a leader on the field, he's a leader in the locker room.

Off the field, Davis and his wife Kelly run the Thomas Davis Defending Dreams Foundation that has promoted programs that enhanced the quality of life for more than 2,000 underprivileged children and their families.

Davis spent his off day on Tuesday giving toys to about 300 children who might normally not get a Christmas present. This past summer, he put a $60,000 playground in his hometown of Shellman, Ga., to help give kids a direction.

Davis also is actively involved with the team's community outreach efforts -- including the NFL Play60 programming -- and makes regular visits to the local children's hospital. He is a strong advocate for hunger relief efforts and a spokesperson for a heart health testing program for local student-athletes.

"I have had the pleasure of watching Thomas Davis grow into the confident mature, caring man he is today," Panthers owner Jerry Richardson said in the team release. "No one takes his position of influence more seriously than Thomas on the field or in the community.

"He is a leader who is unselfish with his time and energy to help those around him, whether that is the younger players on the team or the youth in the Carolinas. He is committed in to his profession, his family and his charity work. and that is why he has made our community a better place to live."

"Thomas Davis lives his life the way that Walter Payton did -- family and community first," said Carolina coach Ron Rivera, who was a teammate of Payton's with the Chicago Bears. "His commitment as a husband and father reflects Walter’s loving spirit.

"Thomas' strength to come back from three knee surgeries is indicative of Payton's toughness on the football field. I can think of no other Panthers player who is as deserving as Thomas."

Davis wasn't given serious consideration for the NFL's comeback player of the year last season after coming back from three ACL surgeries on the same knee in three years. He's spoken openly how that bothered him, even though he understands why Peyton Manning won the award.

Perhaps if he wins this award it will somehow make up for that. It will be announced at the Super Bowl, which is his ultimate goal for the 10-4 Panthers.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson doesn't come to practice often, but when he does it's a welcome sight for players and coaches.

Thursday was no different as Richardson roamed the practice fields in his golf cart, stopping to visit with coach Ron Rivera, general manager Dave Gettleman and players.

"It's uplifting,'' said Rivera, whose team is 0-2. "It shows the players that he cares, that he has a genuine concern for us and who we are as a football team. He did it last year several times. This is nothing new, and it's always good to have him out. For the players, it's a good thing because they know he cares beyond [that] they're on the team.''

Don't read too much into the visit with speculation Rivera could be ousted during the upcoming bye week if the Panthers fall to 0-3 on Sunday against the winless New York Giants.

Richardson appeared in a really good mood despite his franchise's struggles, stopping to crack a joke with me about returning to cover the team after a seven-year hiatus.

Meanwhile, Rivera wouldn't even discuss speculation about his status.

"I'm not going there,'' he said. "I have no concern about that. We play the Giants this week.''
SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- When the Carolina Panthers end a training camp practice, there’s a universal yell from the fans.

“Cam!" they shriek.

It’s an attempt to get quarterback Cam Newton to come sign autographs. It’s also a reminder that Newton’s popularity is greater than that of the 89 other players in camp combined.

“Imagine what it would be like if we win," a team employee said on a recent day while fans yelled Newton’s name.

Yeah, imagine the frenzy around Newton if the Panthers produced a winning season in his third year. That’s pretty much the objective, because coach Ron Rivera needs to win to keep his job, and this franchise hasn’t been to the playoffs since the 2008 season. And it’s mostly up to Newton, who is somewhat a polarizing figure, to make it happen.

The guy is an attention magnet. He’s beloved by Carolina fans but is often bashed by the national media. Presumably, the negativity stems from episodes in which he pouted when things were going badly, and critics have questioned his leadership skills.

But those who know Newton best say what you see isn’t what you get. They say Newton is ready to take the Panthers to the playoffs.

“The thing that I really admire about Cam is, even through all the adversity and even through all of the stuff the media has tried to create that’s not true about him, he’s done a really good job of weathering those storms," Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil said. “His self-evaluation is phenomenal. He’s approached many guys and said, 'Look, I know I don’t do a great job with this or that,' and he’s the first one to tell you that he’s working on it and he’s going to do his best to make sure bad things don’t happen again. I’ve been around guys that are too prideful to ever say that or make an effort to do that.

“I’ve played around guys who will tell you, 'This is who I am, take it or leave it. I really don’t care what you think of me.' Cam’s not like that. That’s something that I really respect out of him, and that’s going to help not only with his teammates, but with himself."

Those who have spent the most time around Newton say the quarterback has grown immensely and is more than ready to be a leader.

“People have talked about him handling the ups and the downs," said offensive coordinator Mike Shula, who worked as quarterbacks coach during Newton’s first two seasons. “We all hate to lose. You don’t ever want to get used to losing and justifying and saying, 'That’s OK, we can get them next week.' You want them to burn inside, but on the outside you have to manage that. It’s not golf. You’re not by yourself. You’ve got 10 other guys that feel just as bad as you do, so channel that feeling and get the most of not just yourself, but get the most out of those other guys. That’s what leadership is in my opinion."

If Newton can get the most out of himself and his teammates, the Panthers will be in the playoffs. And the Newton critics finally will be silenced.

"He's had the best first two seasons of any quarterback," general manager Dave Gettleman said. “The elephant in the room is the win-loss record. Now, it's time to win."

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeRon Rivera
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonRon Rivera and Carolina finished strong last season, and hope that momentum carries into this fall.
1. Ron Rivera needs to make the playoffs. Rivera needs to win, and he needs to do it quickly. The Panthers have gotten off to dismal starts in each of his first two seasons. Owner Jerry Richardson spent several days after last season debating whether he should keep Rivera.

Richardson ultimately decided that the team’s strong finish last season was a sign that Rivera had the Panthers pointed in the right direction. But Richardson is running out of patience.

Anything less than a playoff berth probably won’t be enough for Rivera to keep his job.

2. The offense needs to find an identity. Newton is talented in so many different ways that the Panthers haven’t figured out how to use him properly. That task is now up to Shula as he takes over the offense.

I think Shula has a chance to be one of this season’s success stories. In his previous stint as Tampa Bay’s offensive coordinator in the late 1990s, Shula was bashed for being too conservative. But he didn’t have very talented personnel. He also was under instructions from coach Tony Dungy to keep things conservative.

Shula is too smart to be conservative in Carolina. He has a rare talent in Newton and good skill-position players such as DeAngelo Williams, Steve Smith, Jonathan Stewart and Greg Olsen. I can’t see Carolina’s offense being boring.

3. The secondary can make this defense great. On paper, Carolina’s front seven is as good as any in the league. But some very large questions remain in a secondary that wasn’t very good last season.

Free safety Charles Godfrey is the only sure thing. Because of salary-cap issues, the Panthers weren’t able to bring in any big names to patch up the secondary and settled for several midlevel free agents. But I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw out of the secondary during my visit to camp.

Mike Mitchell looks like he can fit nicely at strong safety. Captain Munnerlyn and Drayton Florence aren’t household names, but they’re smart veteran cornerbacks and they seem to have the edge on youngsters Josh Norman and Josh Thomas. Still, it remains to be seen how this secondary will match up in a division that includes wide receivers such as Roddy White, Julio Jones, Marques Colston and Vincent Jackson.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

The way the team finished last season showed that the players have bought into Rivera. It also showed he’s grown as a coach. The Panthers made major changes to their offensive scheme after the dismal start and wound up winning five of their final six games.

If the Panthers can carry over that momentum, anything is possible. This is a team that’s been down for a while. But there are plenty of players with elite talent on this roster. This isn’t a team that is building from scratch. This is a team that simply is looking to turn a corner.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

[+] EnlargeJon Beason
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsTo reach their goals, the Panthers could use a healthy season from linebacker Jon Beason.
Linebacker Jon Beason and Stewart have been unable to practice so far as they attempt to come back from injuries. Both are extremely talented players. But their injury histories are troubling.

It remains to be seen if Beason and Stewart can get back to being anywhere close to the players they once were.

OBSERVATION DECK
  • A lot of people rip on Carolina’s receiving corps and say it has no depth beyond Smith. I have to disagree with that after watching the Panthers in camp. I think Brandon LaFell is a much better No. 2 receiver than he gets credit for. I also think reclamation project Ted Ginn Jr. might pay off because he has elite speed, and Domenik Hixon gives the Panthers a steady veteran backup.
  • That new-found depth at wide receiver doesn’t bode well for David Gettis. I know he’s a fan favorite because he had a nice rookie season in 2010. But injuries have limited Gettis to only two games over the past two seasons. I don’t know whether Gettis still is dealing with injuries, but I watched him in camp and he didn’t look much like he did as a rookie.
  • Sixth-round draft pick Kenjon Barner is going to have an impact on this team in some way. The backfield is crowded, and the Panthers have plenty of other options in the return game. But Barner has explosive quickness, and I think the Panthers will find a way to get him on the field.
  • Even though he hasn’t appeared in an NFL game since the 2010 season, I think defensive tackle Colin Cole has a shot at making the roster. Cole is massive and can be a nice backup run-stuffer to rookie Star Lotulelei.
  • Maybe it’s a smokescreen, but I don’t think I saw a read-option play the entire time I was at Carolina’s camp.
  • Despite their salary-cap limitations, I think the Panthers made an excellent move by signing free-agent linebacker Chase Blackburn. Beason and Thomas Davis have a history of injuries. Blackburn has starting experience and can play all three linebacker positions.
  • I’m not sure the Panthers are sold on their depth on the offensive line. They’re taking a look at some young backups now, but I think they could look to add a veteran or two.

Remembering Jon Richardson

July, 16, 2013
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Some very sad news out of Charlotte this afternoon. Jon Richardson, the son of Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, has passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 53.

I have very fond memories of Jon Richardson from my days covering the Panthers for The Charlotte Observer. Back in those days, Richardson and his brother, Mark, served, as presidents for the Panthers. Jon was in charge of the stadium, while Mark oversaw the business and football sides.

Much like his father, Jon Richardson was a man of the people. He didn’t flaunt his wealth or status and was well respected by the team’s employees. I had nothing but positive dealings with Jon Richardson on a professional level, but it went beyond that.

Back in my Observer days, Friday afternoons usually were quiet. I’d go to practice, get the update on the injury report and head to the Dowd YMCA for a workout. Apparently, Fridays also were slow for guys that run NFL stadiums because I used to bump into Jon at the gym.

I can’t remember exactly how it started, but we shed our roles as reporter and stadium president. We started playing HORSE on the basketball court and, if other people were around, we’d play games of two-on-two or three-on-three.

The games stopped for a while when Jon first became ill. But he made a recovery and we started playing again. We had common ground because, around that same time, my sister was successfully battling leukemia.

Football was never part of the conversation on those Fridays. Instead, we talked basketball or about Jon’s health or my sister’s.

I didn’t have any contact with Jon after his father fired him and Mark in 2009 (reportedly because the brothers couldn’t get along).

But I’ll always have the memories of Friday afternoons on the basketball court. And I’ll always remember how Jon carried himself with no airs or pretenses.

I’ll always remember that Jon Richardson was just a regular guy.
The Carolina Panthers are in a growing minority and you can blame part of that on old-school owner Jerry Richardson.

The only current owner to play in the NFL, Richardson is the main reason why the Panthers are one of just 12 teams that will hold training camp away from their regular-season facilities in 2013. Part of the reason for that may stem from the fact that Richardson, who played for the Baltimore Colts, played in an era where the norm was to train away from home.

But there’s more to it than that. It’s easy to say the Panthers train at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., simply because that’s Richardson’s alma mater. That certainly is a factor, but having a presence in South Carolina is something Richardson felt strongly about when he first got the expansion team.

Richardson didn’t name the team the Charlotte Panthers because he wanted to engage a fan base in both North and South Carolina.

It works for the Panthers because Spartanburg is a little more than an hour drive from Charlotte and the facilities at Wofford are outstanding. Coach Ron Rivera, who spent some time in the “Cheese League’’ when he was playing for the Chicago Bears, has said he likes training away from home because it helps with team bonding. Predecessor John Fox felt the same way.

The other three NFC South teams have followed the league-wide trend of moving camp back to their regular-season facilities in recent years. The New Orleans Saints left Jackson, Miss., the Atlanta Falcons left Furman University and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers left Disney.

All those moves were logical because the Saints, Falcons and Buccaneers have plush facilities at home.

But, as long as Richardson owns the Panthers, I don’t see the team following the league-wide trend and holding camp at home.
The Carolina Panthers added plenty of scouting experience Wednesday when they hired Dave Gettleman as their new general manager.

“I was very impressed with Dave’s experience and think he will be a very good fit for our organization,” Panthers owner Jerry Richardson said. “He has an extensive background in personnel and comes from an organization in the New York Giants that I hold in high regard and he played an instrumental role in their success.”

There’s no denying Gettleman’s experience in scouting. Gettleman spent last season as the Giants’ senior pro personnel analyst after spending the previous 13 seasons as the director of pro personnel.

Gettleman, 61, also worked in the scouting departments for the Buffalo Bills and Denver Broncos at times when those organizations were going to Super Bowls.

That’s all great, but Gettleman is going to have to be more than a scout in this job. Gettleman is inheriting a coach (Ron Rivera) that he didn’t hire. And, as I pointed out Saturday, Rivera already is very much on the hot seat for the 2013 season.

Gettleman and Rivera have to get on the same page quickly. Just a suggestion here, but Gettleman might be wise to learn from the mistakes of predecessor Marty Hurney. If you’re going to invest a ton of money on one position (like running back), you might want to make sure Rivera and his staff plan to place some importance on that position.

But that’s not going to be the only challenge Gettleman is going to face. As I pointed out last week, the Panthers are in a brutal salary-cap situation. Gettleman is going to have to become a salary-cap wizard in a hurry because he’s going to have to trim about $15 million between now and the start of free agency in March.

He’s going to have to make some tough calls on veterans such as Jon Beason, Chris Gamble, DeAngelo Williams, Ron Edwards and Jordan Gross. Once the Panthers are under the gap, I don’t know that Gettleman’s experience with pro personnel is going to come in all that handy with free agency.

That’s only because the Panthers aren’t going to have any room to pursue free agents. They’re going to subtract some veterans from their roster and replace them through the draft.

Gettleman is going to have to be much more than a scout to get this team straightened out. He's going to have to be a jack-of-all trades and pull things together quickly because this team hasn't won since 2008 and patience is wearing very thin.

Panthers shake up coaching staff

January, 8, 2013
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When owner Jerry Richardson decided to let Ron Rivera stay as coach of the Carolina Panthers on Saturday, you pretty much knew there would be some other movement.

After going 7-9, Rivera had to convince Richardson he had some changes in mind that would help turn things around.

Well, some of those changes came on Tuesday. The Panthers announced they have fired running backs coach John Settle, receivers coach Fred Graves and linebackers coach Warren Belin.

“These were tough decisions because each of these coaches has played an instrumental role on our staff over the last two seasons,” Rivera said. “However, I have decided to go in a different direction at these positions.”
The Carolina Panthers’ search for a general manager won’t be limited to the borders of the United States.

Long-time Canadian Football League general manager Jim Popp is getting some attention and likely will be one of five or six candidates to interview for the job next week, according to league sources. Although Popp has spent the bulk of his career in Canada, he does have some ties to the Carolinas.

He’s a native of Elkin, N.C., and also was an assistant coach at The Citadel and the University of North Carolina. Owner Jerry Richardson is a North Carolina native, and has always shown a willingness to hire people from the Carolinas.

The Panthers also reportedly will talk to Dave Gettelman, Marc Ross and George Paton, and there has been one report that they also could be interested in Lake Dawson.

But, as I’ve been saying, don’t rule out the possibility of Richardson simply promoting interim general manager Brandon Beane. Although Beane doesn’t have a deep scouting background, he’s a longtime Carolina employee, who worked his way up through the ranks to become the right-hand man of former general manager Marty Hurney and had been taking on added responsibilities in recent years. Beane already knows the landscape in Carolina, and has a good relationship with Richardson.

Saturday’s news that Ron Rivera will stay as the coach also could work in Beane’s favor. Rivera and Beane worked well together, and the Panthers won the final four games of the season and got contributions from several players Beane signed.

Ron Rivera enters 2013 on hot seat

January, 5, 2013
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Ron Rivera is staying as the coach of the Carolina Panthers, but that doesn’t mean he’s off the hot seat.

Owner Jerry Richardson’s Saturday decision to keep his coach means Rivera will enter the 2013 season on a seat that might be the hottest in the league. Richardson wants to win and he wants to win immediately.

[+] EnlargeRon Rivera
Sam Sharpe/US PresswirePanthers coach Ron Rivera will have to win next season with a roster that won't be bolstered much in free agency.

The only NFL owner to play in the league is very impatient, because the Panthers haven’t had a winning season since 2008 and haven’t won a playoff game since 2005. So why does Richardson think Rivera can get the job done in 2013?

There’s no doubt Richardson likes the fact Rivera, and the Panthers finished 2012 on a four-game winning streak. Richardson also must believe that Rivera can turn around his early season trend of losing close games.

I can see Rivera turning things around and getting the Panthers to the playoffs, which would be the only way he’ll keep his job in 2014. But it’s not automatic.

Rivera probably will have to tweak his coaching staff a little bit. I’ve heard the chemistry on the offensive coaching staff wasn’t great. Rivera also is going to have to change his ways a little bit, perhaps becoming a bit more aggressive, and it wouldn’t hurt him in the eyes of the fans to become just a bit more animated on the sidelines.

But the biggest thing Rivera needs to do is get more out of the players that stay on his roster. The Panthers face a salary-cap nightmare, and lots of veterans are going to depart just to get the Panthers under the cap in mid-March.

The Panthers aren’t going to be players in free agency. Their cap situation means the only way they can add any talent to the roster will be through the draft.

That means they have to get more out of the players that stay on the roster. But I still can see the nucleus for a playoff team.

Guys like quarterback Cam Newton, linebacker Luke Kuechly, defensive end Charles Johnson, center Ryan Kalil and running back Jonathan Stewart still are going to be around. They’ll have to step up and be better than ever, and so will some other guys.

If that happens, Rivera will be just fine. If not, the Panthers will be looking for his replacement at this time next year.

Now that Rivera is set, the Panthers have to hire a new general manager. There’s talk that Dave Gettelman, Marc Ross and Lake Dawson are candidates from the outside, and there could be others.

But I think there’s at least a decent chance interim general manager Brandon Beane could become the permanent general manager, but that might come with some restructuring of the personnel department. The Panthers already have pro personnel director Mark Koncz, college scouting director Don Gregory and salary-cap manager Rob Rogers in place, and all are competent. But fans might not be very happy if the Panthers simply elevate Beane and stick with what they’ve got. I can see a situation in which Beane is promoted, but someone with a strong personnel background is brought in to oversee the personnel department.

However the Panthers structure things, they have to win in 2013, because Richardson isn't going to be patient any longer.

Panthers taking small steps

January, 5, 2013
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Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson reportedly is meeting with Ron Rivera on Saturday, but that doesn’t mean the coach’s fate is going to be decided immediately.

Indications are that Richardson wants to hear what lessons Rivera learned from a 7-9 season and what personnel and staff changes he wants to make. In other words, it’s almost like Rivera is interviewing for his job. If he can convince Richardson he can win big next season, he’ll stay. If not, he’ll go.

But I’m not expecting Richardson to make the decision immediately. I think he’ll listen to Rivera and then take a little time to make a decision. But Richardson can’t wait too long, especially if he is going to make a change. Other vacancies are being filled and the pool of candidates is shrinking.

Plus, deciding Rivera’s fate isn’t the only major issue Richardson is facing. He also has to decide on a general manager. Interim general manager Brandon Beane is expected to get an interview. Several personnel executives from around the league (Dave Gettelman, Marc Ross and Lake Dawson) also are likely to be interviewed. And at least one candidate that was not employed by an NFL team this season already interviewed before the season ended.

Richardson has moved very slowly on all this. But at least he and Rivera are finally sitting down to talk. Again, I don’t think that means a decision will come Saturday. But, at least this is a step toward some clarity on who will coach the Panthers in 2013.
It’s sounding more and more to me like owner Jerry Richardson, not a new general manager, will be the one to decide if Ron Rivera remains as coach of the Carolina Panthers.

Payton
Rivera
Joseph Person reports the much-awaited meeting between Rivera and Richardson will take place this weekend. This is just my hunch, but I don’t think Richardson is heading into that meeting with any decision already made. If he had already decided Rivera wasn’t coming back, I think the coach already would have been fired.

I think this will be a meeting where Rivera is asked what he learned from this season and what changes he has planned for staff and personnel if he stays. If Richardson likes what he hears, I think there’s a good chance Rivera, who won his final four games to finish 7-9, will stay.

According to Person, a choice on a general manager won’t come until after Richardson and Rivera meet. Interim general manager Brandon Beane is a candidate to take over the position on a permanent basis. New York Giants’ executives Marc Ross and Dave Gettelman also reportedly will interview and Person reports Tennessee Titans personnel guru Lake Dawson also could be a candidate. The Panthers also interviewed at least one candidate, who is not presently employed by another team, before the regular season ended.

Richardson is moving very slowly, but that might not be a bad thing. He clearly is agonizing over the Rivera decision. That’s understandable because Richardson likes Rivera and there have been some signs he can be a successful head coach, but the results so far haven’t been spectacular.

It’s going to be up to Rivera to use this weekend to convince Richardson he can get the Panthers to take the next step.

Word on Ron Rivera not likely Monday

December, 31, 2012
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If the Carolina Panthers are going to fire coach Ron Rivera, it’s not expected to happen Monday.

Rivera is scheduled to hold his usual day-after-the-game meeting with the media at 11 a.m. ET. Team officials said no one else is expected to take part in the news conference.

We’ll see if Rivera reveals anything about what he’s been told about his status by owner Jerry Richardson. But I don’t think this means that Rivera is totally safe.

Richardson could be taking a few days to think this one through. He also could be waiting until he hires a new general manager to determine Rivera’s future.

Wrap-up: Panthers 44, Saints 38

December, 30, 2012
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Thoughts on the Carolina Panthers44-38 victory over the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday:

What it means: This was a fitting end to the Saints’ season. A defense that set an NFL record for yards allowed in a season was absolutely horrible. That defense is a huge part of the reason the Saints finished at 7-9. The Panthers also finished with a 7-9 record, but they finished on a high note.

Enough to save a job? The Panthers finished the season by winning their final four games and looking like the team many expected them to be back in the preseason. Will that be enough for the Panthers to keep coach Ron Rivera around for a third season? That now is up to owner Jerry Richardson, who hasn’t had a team with a winning season since 2008. Richardson’s patience is wearing thin, but I think patience might be a good thing in this case. Rivera got the Panthers, to finish strong and I don’t think it’s in the best interest of franchise quarterback Cam Newton to have to adjust to a new coaching staff. And let’s remember, Newton is the franchise in Carolina.

End of the misery? The bounty scandal, the Drew Brees contract negotiations and a losing season made for a very difficult nine months for the Saints and their fans. It’s all over now, and coach Sean Payton is expected to be reinstated from his suspension the day after the Super Bowl. Things should get better, but it’s not going to be easy. Payton’s offensive intellect should be enough to touch up the offense a little bit, but the defense has to improve dramatically for the Saints to have any shot at becoming contenders again.

What’s next: For the Panthers, it’s time to watch and wait to see whether Richardson keeps Rivera. A decision should come very quickly, but Richardson also has to hire a general manager. Once those two situations are resolved, the Panthers likely will have to go through the painful process of unloading some veterans because their salary-cap situation is a mess. The Panthers have $136 million committed toward a 2013 salary cap that is expected to be slightly more than $120 million. The Saints are in a similar situation when it comes to the cap. They have about $138 million committed toward the cap. Veterans Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith and Roman Harper are high on a long list of guys with high cap figures that could be salary-cap casualties. If those three go, Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis are going to have to get very creative in how they go about restocking their defense.

Panthers need to make call on Rivera now

December, 28, 2012
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One way or the other, Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson already should have made his decision on the future of coach Ron Rivera.

I know there’s a school of thought out there that Richardson first will hire a general manager who then will make a decision on Rivera. But that could put the Panthers at a huge disadvantage.

Although the Panthers fired general manager Marty Hurney in October, there have been no indications they’re ready to announce his replacement. It’s likely they want to talk to some people that are currently employed by other teams. They can’t talk to those people until the regular season ends and if the people they want to talk to are employed by playoff teams, the wait is even longer.

Richardson isn’t in a position where he can afford to wait to make the call on Rivera. On Monday, teams will start firing coaches. Speculation is that there could be as many as eight or 10 open jobs around the league.

They’ll get filled quickly. It’s a game of musical chairs and waiting to hire a general manager could leave the Panthers without a seat if Rivera isn’t the coach the new general manager wants.

Rivera has given Richardson at least some of the upswing the owner wanted to see. The Panthers have won their past three games.

Maybe that’s enough for Richardson to decide to give Rivera a third year. Maybe it’s not enough.

Either way, Richardson has to make his call public very soon. If he waits to let the new general manager decide Rivera’s fate and the general manager wants a new coach, the best candidates already will be employed elsewhere.

Wrap-up: Panthers 17, Raiders 6

December, 23, 2012
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Thoughts on the Carolina Panthers' 17-6 victory against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium:

What it means: It’s the third straight win for the Panthers and puts them at 6-9. The Panthers even have a chance to finish outside of last place in the NFC South, which seemed like something they had locked up only a few weeks ago. That’s far too little too late after a disastrous start to the season. But spirits have been raised and the Panthers will head to the offseason with some positives to build on, no matter who is coaching the team or serving as its general manager.

Rivera watch: The winning streak helps coach Ron Rivera’s quest to keep his job tremendously. In fact, Rivera might already have done enough to stay employed. Quarterback Cam Newton has played well the second half of the season and owner Jerry Richardson might be hesitant to change coaching staffs because that might hamper Newton’s development.

Don’t get too excited: Yes, it’s very nice that the Carolina defense held Oakland to two field goals. But let’s keep this in perspective. The Panthers were playing the Raiders, who were using Matt Leinart as their quarterback.

On the plus side: One more thing that has to help Rivera’s cause is that his team was able to protect a fourth-quarter lead. That’s something that was a major problem earlier in the season.

What’s next: The Panthers conclude their season next Sunday against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

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