A Message to Panthers Fans, Dated March 11, 2014

In November 1993 I had just left Mr. Antonelli’s math class. I was a freshman at St. Ignatius High School in downtown Cleveland when I heard the shocking news — the Browns cut Bernie Kosar.

It’s now March 2014, and just writing that sentence — the Browns cut Bernie — still makes me emotional. Seriously.

Being a fan can be the worst. It can hurt. It can make you go crazy. It can make you tear up 21 years after, even though it was the right decision.

Whatever happened to Bernie and the guy who cut him, anyway?

Over the last few weeks, I’ve tried to add some perspective and context for Panthers fans about the Steve Smith Situation. It’s not speculation, it’s what I’ve learned from numerous conversations with a handful of people close to it all. There’s many layers to why the team’s decision makers are willing to part ways with the best player in franchise history. Most of those reasons seem reasonable to me. And since I think we the media need to do a better job explaining the hows and whys teams do things, that’s what I’ve attempted to do.

Yet perhaps I’ve been a bit too hard on Panthers fans lately. I keep telling most it’s only March. Step back from the ledge and give the front office time to either get it right or screw it up. Let free agency and the draft happen before jumping.

But maybe I should heed my own advice before asking fans to see things clearly. It’s only March and it’s not easy for fans to see down the road six months from now, when the actual season begins.

I can tell you Marvin McNutt and Tavares King won’t be the only receivers. I can tell you Byron Bell won’t likely be protecting Cam Newton’s blindside. I can tell you Dave Gettleman had a lot less money and almost as many headaches last year at this time before he helped the Panthers get back to the playoffs.

But it’s easier to say things as someone who’s trying to be objective than it is for a fan to digest and be ok with it all.

I’ve long told many that I couldn’t cover the Browns the same way I do the Panthers. Do you really want someone like this covering your team?

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The Browns stole a first-round pick from the Colts in the Trent Richardson trade. Yet there I was in September, going nutty.

Fan bloggers and message boards are popular for good reasons, but there are also reasons why I still believe the best reporters are ones who can emotionally detach themselves.

There are many good people inside the Panthers’ building, and it’s a lot more fun to be around folks when they’re having success, so I ultimately hope the Panthers do well. But I’m not a Panthers fan. Since I’m not, I’m not as emotionally invested as proper fans.

So to those struggling to make sense of The Steve Smith Situation, I get it. On paper, it doesn’t look reasonable. Why get rid of your best receiver when you don’t have replacements ready? Why do it when it doesn’t free up loads of money?

While I’ve tried to answer those questions as clearly as possible, I understand fans’ frustrations. And for what it’s worth, so do the people making the decisions. They know they’re not the most popular people in town right now. They know they’re going to take a big hit.

But it really is just March.

Last March they had to dig out of a hole that put them $15 million over the salary cap. They didn’t have much of a secondary, they had huge holes in the middle of their defensive line and their best receiver was turning 34. They ended up winning the NFC South.

This March they need to revamp at receiver, on the offensive line and in the secondary again. But they’ll also bring back the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Coach of the Year and one of the best young quarterbacks in the league.

184 days ago the Panthers were kicking off the season against the Seahawks. The 2014 season kicks off in 180 days. A lot happened since the start of the 2013 season and a lot will happen before Week 1 of 2014.

A lot happened after the Browns cut Bernie. He ended up winning a Super Bowl as a backup with the Cowboys. The team left Cleveland and, well, we know what’s happened since they returned. The guy that cut Bernie turned into one of the best coaches in history.

Time may not heal all wounds as a fan, but try to give your team’s decision makers at least a little bit of time to completely screw it up. Or, they may even get it right.

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