Bank of America Stadium is under renovation, as this picture I took Wednesday from The Charlotte Observer parking lot makes obvious. Check out the logo on the left -- gone! There have been men crawling all around the top of the stadium like ants like this week, and I hope they are being paid well to do it.
In the meantime, the Panthers themselves are under renovation, too. As the wounds from the 23-10 playoff loss to San Francisco slowly get cauterized, I am asked more and more by Carolina fans to look forward, not back. So here quickly -- and without a lot of explanation since we've got the whole offseason for that -- are five things I would do in the next six months if I were Panther general manager Dave Gettleman. I have already advocated extending the contract of coach Ron Rivera, so this focuses on what the Panthers should do on the playing field.
1) Find a big-time wide receiver. Can you imagine what Cam Newton would be like if he had a Dez Bryant or a Calvin Johnson or a younger version of Steve Smith? Many of the Panthers' passing-game problems would evaporate. I don't want Smith to go anywhere, but there has to be a reliable option on the other side, and it's not Brandon LaFell. The No.28 overall pick should be used either on a wide receiver or on an offensive lineman. Free agency also is an option. I would be fine with Gettleman re-signing Ted Ginn, but as a No.3 receiver, not as a No.2.
2) Improve the offensive line. Left tackle Jordan Gross is still on the fence about returning to the team. I think Gross will eventually say, "Yes, I'll come back," but either way, the Panthers must replace him before long and they also need an upgrade at right tackle. Those running backs that the Panthers have plowed so much money into -- you just can't let those guys get hit two yards behind the line of scrimmage on every other down. If I were Gettleman, I'd try for "hog molly" offensive linemen twice in the first three rounds of the May 8-10 NFL draft.
3) Figure out how to keep defensive end Greg Hardy. I think the franchise tag may be the likeliest bet.
4) Upgrade the defensive secondary -- but don't turn it completely over again. Re-signing safety Mike Mitchell and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn to medium-sized contracts would be a good start.
5) Extend quarterback Cam Newton's contract. One way or the other, this must happen. The Panthers still have him under contract through 2014, but the two players they most can't afford to lose in the next few years are Newton and middle linebacker Luke Kuechly.