The Carolina Panthers are entering the offseason with disappointment and a lot of work to do to get back into the Super Bowl next season. As Cam Newton predicts a return in 2016, the Panthers have some contract work to get done first. While they will get players like Kelvin Benjamin back on the field, the team may or may not have Josh Norman who is preparing to demand a big contract in the offseason.
The first thing on the to-do list for the Panthers offseason is getting Norman signed to a new contract. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, if the Panthers cannot agree to a long-term contract with the cornerback they will use their franchise tag in order to retain him. The Panthers could be in trouble when trying to negotiate a new deal. Norman already rejected a contract worth more than $7 million annually with the goal of getting a deal of upwards of $14 million instead. Even with the salary caps expanding, the Panthers cannot afford to make that move.
"Because from day one, I've always been cashing in on myself. If you don't cash in on yourself, who is going to do it for you? If you don't think you're doing you job, who's going to do it for you?" Norman said, via ESPN.com.
The Panthers have questions outside of Norman, especially on offense with the running back position. Jonathan Stewart was a star for the team this year, but he will be a $9.55 million cap hit in 2016. That is a heavy load to carry at the running back position. His counterpart, Mike Tolbert, is a free agent which leaves Cameron Artis-Payne as the other solid option. According to ESPN.com, the Panthers could try and lower Stewart's number, but he might not be keen on the idea after having such a standout year. The team might not be ready to hand the rushing load over to Artis-Payne just yet.
One good thing for the Panthers is they get Benjamin back in the mix. The receiver will return after tearing his ACL in training camp. Stephen Hill will also be back with an improved Devin Funchess and Ted Ginn Jr. Jerricho Cotchery is the player that could be on the outside looking in as he hits free agency and the Panthers want to get younger at the position.
One thing is clear, the loss did not hurt the confidence of Newton regardless of what he said in the post-game press conference. Newton was quick to say the Panthers will be back next year, but they have work to do to make it happen.