CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) While NFL owners were busy unanimously approving the sale of the Carolina Panthers to hedge fund owner David Tepper in Atlanta, his new team was taking the field for the first time together this season 250 miles away in Charlotte.
Tepper inherits a team that will have a noticeably new look for 2018.
Sure, many of the veteran core players including Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Greg Olsen, Ryan Kalil and Kawann Short are back, but Carolina has an unusually high influx of new players this offseason via free agency, trades and the NFL draft following a year in which they lost in the first round of the playoffs to New Orleans.
The Panthers replaced all-time leading rusher Jonathan Stewart with free agent C.J. Anderson from the Broncos and added three wide receivers. They acquired Torrey Smith in a trade with the Super Bowl champion Eagles, signed free agent Jarius Wright and drafted D.J. Moore from Maryland in the first round.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera hopes free agent Russ Cockrell and second-round pick Donte Jackson provide long-term stability at cornerback while Da’Norris Searcy can fill the shoes of Kurt Coleman at safety. Carolina also invested $28 million in free agent defensive tackle Dontari Poe to replace Star Lotulelei.
”We wanted some veteran guys who have a feel for what it takes,” Rivera said Tuesday.
That includes Smith and Anderson, who recently won Super Bowls.
It’s early yet, but Rivera likes what he’s seen from the newcomers.
”I feel very comfortable about the veteran guys that we brought it and now it’s about the young guys,” Rivera said. ”Not just this year’s rookie class but last year’s rookie class. A group of those guys have got to step up.”
Tepper stepped up and bought the Panthers last week for an NFL-record $2.2 billion in cash, setting the stage for a new era to begin in Carolina.
The hedge fund owner was formerly a minority owner with the Pittsburgh Steelers, although he will have to sell that share now that he is running the Panthers. His agreement to purchase the team ended a five-month search for new ownership after franchise founder Jerry Richardson announced he was selling amid allegations of improper sexual and racial behavior at the team’s headquarters in Charlotte.
”For a lot of people I am sure they are ready for some closure and for that transition to start,” Olsen said. ”… I think this transition has been inevitable for a little while since it was announced that the team would be sold. I think for a lot of people in the building, the players, the team, just to put all of this to rest and move forward in the new direction that the team is going with.”
Rivera said he’s met Tepper a couple of times in passing and presented a formal presentation to him – and other potential owners – during the bidding process.
He likes that Tepper has been around the NFL as a part owner.
”He has a sense and a feel for football and he has been around it,” Rivera said. ”… Eventually I know we will sit down and talk some football and talk about this team.”
Meanwhile, Newton was the on the field throwing during the first day of OTAs. He missed all of the spring workouts last year because of surgery on his right shoulder.
Rivera said having a healthy Newton for these camps is essential because he sets the tone and tempo for the team during practice. He also said it is ”critical” that he has a chance to get on the same page with his new group of receivers.
”I am excited about having him out here and throwing the ball and developing that” chemistry, Rivera said.
Newton is in the midst of learning a new offensive system.
Norv Turner replaced Mike Shula as offensive coordinator this offseason. Shula was Newton’s coordinator since 2013 and had a close relationship with him. Rivera said at first Newton was nervous about the change, but has now started to settle down.
The quarterback seemed relaxed Tuesday, running and smiling and trading his normal barbs with linebacker Thomas Davis after big plays.
”I think Cam gets that Norv is here to help,” Rivera said.
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