The Hot Button: Carolina chaos?

As we sometimes do here on the NFC South Blog when the inbox is overflowing with questions about one particular topic or issue, we’re going to do a special edition of the mailbag just focusing on that topic or issue. We’re going to put a new name on it and call it “The Hot Button.’’

The best way to summarize the questions that are lighting up my inbox today is to ask the question, “What the heck is going on in Carolina?’’ Here are some of your questions and my answer at the bottom.

Jonathan in Fort Mill, S.C., writes: With all the changes in Carolina, is Jerry Richardson the one calling the shots? Hard to believe that Marty Hurney and John Fox (who are fighting for the jobs) feel like they have a better team compared to a few weeks ago. It appears that the moves being made will mean more in two years than the immediate future. Not sure how this is going to sit with the fans who were expecting us to spend some of that cash after letting Peppers walk. As of now it looks as if we have clearly taken a step back.

Ron in High Point, N.C., writes: Many of us Panther fans are wondering where the Panthers are going with all the cuts (Hoover being the most confusing...why cut a relatively low cost player who is so much better than his backup?), given the lack of action in signing free agents and no first round pick in the draft. If, as you write, the pressure is even stronger for Fox to win this season, wouldn't you think it would be VERY frustrating for him to be dealt a weaker hand? And finally, are the cuts simply Richardson sending a message to players about their salaries in a "down economy"?

Mark in Monroe, N.C., writes: The Panthers have done nothing so far to make their team better. In fact some of the releases have made it much worse. With this being the do-or-goodbye year for Fox and Hurney why aren't we seeing more? I know this is the way they typically do business but without a first round draft pick what are they waiting for?

Devin in Monterey, Calif., writes: I understand that the Panthers want to get younger in order to be successful, but it seems like they releasing more players than signing them. With only 5 draft picks and no free agents signed so far, how do they even think they are going to replace those players? Also, releasing Brad Hoover, one of the classiest players I've ever seen, seemed unnecessary considering the fact that Hoover was still doing an outstanding job as full back and Anthony Fiammetta didn't seem ready to replace him.

Pat Yasinskas: Yes, these are very puzzling times in Carolina, and I’m not going to pretend to have an easy answer as to exactly what the Panthers are thinking. But let’s try to sort through it. First off, let’s start with Jerry Richardson. The owner has had some health issues in recent years, but he always has remained very much in control of this team and I suspect, right now, he’s even more involved in football issues than ever. I know for a fact Richardson is extremely worried about the labor situation in the NFL and is preparing for the possibility of a lockout in 2011. I think he is sending a message to his players and also tightening things up in case there is no football in 2011.

I’ve got to believe he’s the one behind this plan, in which the Panthers have parted ways with a bunch of expensive and older players. As several of you pointed out, it’s tough to imagine John Fox and Marty Hurney deciding to go in this direction on their own. They like to tell you they make the football decisions, and that’s usually true, but, in this case, I think Richardson is calling the shots.

I hate to even make this comparison, but I’ve got to be honest: It almost reminds me a little of the 2001 offseason when George Seifert was coaching. The Panthers got rid of all of their old players and it resulted in the disastrous 1-15 season that cost Seifert his job. I’m not saying that’s going to happen with these Panthers because Fox is too good of a coach and there is some talent remaining with Steve Smith, Jon Beason, Jordan Gross, Chris Gamble, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.

But, as several of you pointed out, there’s no way this team is better right now than it was a couple of weeks ago.

Now, let’s move over to a little brighter side. The one thing I urge Carolina fans right now -- and I know it’s not easy -- is to be patient. Let’s wait a bit and see what the flip side to all of this is -- if there is a flip side. Richardson, Fox and Hurney are too smart to just simply gut their team. I’m not saying they’re going to go out and go crazy in free agency. That’s not their style and, besides, there’s not a lot left in free agency. But I think you’ll see them make some moves on some mid-level free agents. While it’s true they don’t have a first-round draft pick right now, that can change between now and late April.

It may all look crazy right now, but there’s got to be more to come. Maybe, in the end, it will all make sense. Or maybe not.