Sorry, Who Dat Nation, but the three-time NFC South champion Carolina Panthers remain the team to beat in the division, despite their crushing 24-10 loss to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50.
No ifs, ands or buts about it.
I for one believe a Carolina victory would have worked in the best interests of its division brethren Atlanta, New Orleans and Tampa Bay. Why? Because a win would have fueled constant reminders of the potential for a Super Bowl hangover and the many obstacles that typically face teams trying to repeat. Over the offseason, that can wear on a team and become a weighty distraction, an albatross of sorts, not to mention during the season when even the bottom feeders are gunning to bring down the champs.
Now I suspect the upset loss on football’s biggest stage will only serve as a wakeup call and strong motivation for a Panthers’ franchise that was betting on the come.
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In the days leading up to Super Bowl 50, a game in which Carolina entered as a touchdown favorite, several national reporters dared to utter the word “dynasty” while predicting a likely Panthers victory against the Broncos.
But after Sunday’s devastating loss at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, CA., the Panthers still are looking for their first NFL championship after two failures to win the big game, the first coming against the New England Patriots, 32-29, in Super Bowl XXXVIII (2003 season).
Wheels of change
As the Panthers pause, reflect and consider what might have been, the wheels are in motion in New Orleans.
Saints general manager Mickey Loomis and coach Sean Payton officially opened the offseason Monday, releasing three veterans — six-time Pro Bowl guard Jahri Evans and linebackers David Hawthorne and Ramon Humber. Veteran cornerback Brandon Browner’s release also seems imminent based on his announcement on social media late last week.
Those four departures would free up approximately $7.25 million in cap room, though more moves are expected in the coming days and weeks as team officials strive to meet the league-mandated salary cap number by the first day of the new league year March 9.
In other developments, the first sign that quarterback Drew Brees will return for the 2016 season occurs Wednesday when team officials fully guarantee $10.85 million of his $20 million base salary. Brees is scheduled to count a league-high $30 million against the team’s cap in ’16, though the possibility exists an extension could be reached that would reduce that number significantly.
More cuts coming?
Other potential contract reductions or outright releases could involve center Max Unger ($6 million cap hit), tackle Zach Strief ($3.2 million cap hit), wide receiver Marques Colston ($6.5 million cap hit) and punter Thomas Morstead ($3.4 million cap hit).
Brees, Strief, Colston and Morstead are the lone holdovers from the Super Bowl XLIV team of 2009.
Brian Allee-Walsh, a long-time Saints reporter based in New Orleans, can be reached at email@example.com.