NFL: Offseason gambling backfires for Panthers
CHARLOTTE ó It started with Julius Peppers, continued with Jake Delhomme and ended with a bold draft-day deal.
The normally conservative Carolina Panthers spent the offseason gambling.
They bet that forcing an unhappy Julius Peppers to stay ó with an NFL-high $16.7 million salary ó wouldn’t make him a disgruntled nonfactor. The scenario also meant the Panthers would have to remain healthy, because Peppers would eat up about 14 percent of the salary cap and limit depth in other areas.
They risked that Jake Delhomme’s abysmal playoff performance was an aberration and gave him a lucrative extension and no competition in training camp.
Finally, they decided undersized, overlooked defensive end Everette Brown was so good they sent next year’s first-round pick to San Francisco to grab him in the second round of the draft.
Now after one sack from Peppers, seven interceptions from Delhomme and Brown’s bum ankle, the injury-ravaged Panthers (0-3) are facing a bleak season where the corresponding high draft pick will go to the 49ers.
Talk about a bad hand.
With their season spiraling out of control, the Panthers scattered for their bye weekend holding out hope there’s still time to get Peppers in gear, end Delhomme’s turnover parade and shore up a leaky run defense.
“When you turn it over 12 times in three games, an average of four a game, I don’t care who you’re playing, you aren’t winning, especially (against) good teams,” coach John Fox said. “That’s something I think we can get cleaned up.
“Defensively, as far as our fits in run and pass, I definitely think we can get fixed.”
It might be too late. Only three teams since the current playoff format was adopted in 1990 have made the playoffs after starting 0-3. And the Panthers have numerous problems eight months after they won the NFC South.
“When we first looked at the schedule and saw the bye week was Week 4, we were saying that was early and we may be just getting on a role,” Brown said. “But actually it’s come at a good time for us to regroup and get ready for the 13 weeks.”
Brown hopes the time off will allow him to return quickly from a high ankle sprain that kept him out of Monday’s loss to Dallas. Brown so far hasn’t become the consistent pass-rushing specialist the Panthers had hoped. He’s yet to record a sack or win a starting job.
The bulk of the pressure was supposed to come from Peppers, the franchise’s all-time sacks leader, who was voted a captain by his teammates despite spending the offseason trying to force the Panthers to let him leave in free agency.
Though Peppers delayed signing his franchise tag tender and skipped all offseason workouts, new defensive coordinator Ron Meeks designed his Cover-2 system around him. Peppers was expected to match or exceed his career-high 141/2 sacks of last season.
Instead, Peppers hasn’t even gotten a quarterback pressure in two games, looking a lot like the 2007 player that ended with a career-low 21/2 sacks. After managing only two tackles against Dallas, Peppers told reporters the Cowboys didn’t have an elaborate scheme to stop him.
“I can’t go over every play and how they blocked me,” Peppers said, “but I didn’t see anything special.”
Fox publicly remains firmly behind Peppers and Delhomme, who has committed 15 turnovers in his last 15 quarters dating to the Arizona playoff debacle. Delhomme still has the support of his teammates, too.
“Guys are not quitting,” Delhomme said. “Guys are not giving up.”