Let’s take a look at what it all means.
Is this a sign that owner Jerry Richardson is abandoning years of making it a point to stay clear of guys with character issues? Probably not and I don’t think new coach Ron Rivera has much more influence than predecessor John Fox did in this department. Yeah, the Panthers might be pushing things a bit by signing a flamboyant tight end who has been followed by controversy throughout much of his career. But, if you really look at Shockey’s track record, it’s not like he’s had a slew of major legal issues. I don’t think this is going to suddenly open the gates for the Panthers to jump up and sign Plaxico Burress as soon as he gets out of jail. Shockey’s issues have been more about personality than legal problems. He can be outspoken, controversial and he’s always going to want the football. There’s no crime in any of that.
Can we interpret this move to mean anything about Carolina’s plans at quarterback? Yeah, I think you can read some things between the lines. My take is this is another sign the Panthers probably won’t draft Cam Newton or Blaine Gabbert. Shockey used to bully a young Eli Manning when they were together with the Giants. Put him with Carolina receiver Steve Smith and their competitive desires and outspoken natures could make life real difficult for a young quarterback. I’m thinking trading for or signing a veteran like Donovan McNabb or Carson Palmer, who reportedly could be available, would make for a better situation. Shockey was relatively well behaved in New Orleans because the Saints have basically one rule: You don't mess with Drew Brees because it's his team. Shockey followed that rule.
Can Smith and Shockey coexist? Flip a coin here and we may not know the answer until well into late next season. Like I said, both are strong personalities and both want the ball, so there is potential for them to clash. Smith clashed badly with Keyshawn Johnson in the one season they spent together and wasn’t exactly a warm influence with young receivers like Dwayne Jarrett and Keary Colbert in the past. But the bottom line is that these two guys really want to win and if each can see that side of the other, this thing could work. Besides, we’re not even sure if Smith will be with the Panthers next season. Rivera’s made it clear that situation is fluid and much of it will be up to Smith. But adding another threat in the passing game might help persuade Smith to stay.
Will there be enough passes to go around? Rivera has been very vocal about wanting the tight end to be a big part of the passing game. The Panthers haven’t had anything remotely close to that since Wesley Walls, nearly a decade ago. This is a sign Rivera’s serious about that. Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski was Shockey’s tight ends coach at the University of Miami a long time ago. Again, a lot will depend on what happens at quarterback, but I don’t think Shockey would be signing with the Panthers if he wasn’t sold that the tight end is going to be a big part of Carolina’s passing game.
What does this say about Carolina’s youth movement? The Panthers went through most of last season with only four players who were 30 or older. I don’t think they’re suddenly abandoning the youth movement and I don’t think you’ll see them sign a bunch of veterans. I think this move is sort of like the character thing above. The Panthers might be bending some of their old rules just a bit to help speed the youth movement along. But, given Shockey’s age and durability issues, I wouldn’t look for him to suddenly be an 80-catch, 1,000-receiving yard tight end. I think he’ll be more of a role player. He’ll be a tight end who will be expected to go out and catch some passes and help add a little variety to the passing game.