Tuesday, October 28, 2003
Carolina no expansion model
HOUSTON -- It's perfectly natural to compare coach Dom
Capers' second-year expansion team to the one he had in 1996.
It's also perfectly wrong.
Capers' 2003 Texans are 2-5 after a 30-21 loss at Indianapolis
on Sunday. It's the same record they had after their first seven
games last season.
His '96 Carolina Panthers, conversely, were the stuff of
expansion legend. After setting a record with a 7-9 expansion mark,
a veteran defense led the Panthers to a 12-4 record and a trip to
the NFC championship game the following season.
It could be said that Capers' Panthers set the standard for
teams breaking into the NFL. That, too, would be wrong.
The same veterans who propelled Carolina to its fast start
quickly aged into ineffectiveness, and the NFC runners-up of 1996
reverted to 7-9 the next year and 4-12 after that. Capers went from
genius to scapegoat and was out the door.
The time to compare the Texans and the Panthers isn't the first
two years. It's the third, fourth, fifth years and beyond.
Only now has Carolina managed to clean the salary cap slate,
build through the draft and add a few important pieces through free
agency -- especially running back Stephen Davis, who leads the NFC
Unlike the Panthers of old, the Texans are trudging through
their second season without a player over 31 years old. Barring
salary cap hang-ups or free agency defections, the key offensive
components could be in place for years.
The defense is a bit older and has not been helped by the first
two drafts. Rookie Antwan Peek, a promising reserve outside
linebacker, is the only regular contributor out of college the past
That promises to change next season, as Houston will probably
use its first choice on a defensive stud or trade it for multiple
players. It plays right into the Texans' hands that next April's
draft again looks to be top-heavy with receivers, their deepest
Still, the Texans are more than one draft away from filling all
This offseason becomes the first in which general manager
Charley Casserly must decide whether enough pieces are in place to
pursue free agents for a postseason drive in 2004.
First, Casserly will have other issues to address, such as
restructuring the contracts of defensive end Gary Walker, inside
linebacker Jamie Sharper and possibly cornerback Marcus Coleman.
All three carry weighty cap liabilities for 2004.
If the Texans have to release one or more of that group, they'll
have even more defensive holes to fill, never mind the Olive
Oyl-thin depth at every defensive position. One draft and one round
of free agency shopping can do only so much.
Owner Bob McNair has been steadfast in his assertion that
building the Texans into a contender could take four years.
Hopefully he and other Houstonians will remember that if the
franchise continues to struggle this season and next with its eye
on building a consistent winner afterward.
Just ask Carolina fans which road they would have preferred.
It's been a long time since 1996.