The Panthers have everything in place to proceed into a new era of prosperity. They just have to figure out how to generate the funds.
Such a process began on Thursday with the official introduction of general manager Dan Morgan and head coach Dave Canales, two new partners sharing a simple, yet complex goal: deliver Charlotte a winner.
"I don't care about what we can't do -- what can we do? Who are these players that we have, and how are we going to maximize those strengths on a daily basis?" Canales told reporters. "We're looking for championship moments, championship days, and that's got to be a full-on commitment every single time we walk in here.
"For me, it's about building that culture, building our language, making sure we're using specific language -- there's going to be a bunch of buzz words being thrown around -- I don't like synonyms. We all speak the same language and we're heading in the same direction with that alignment that we talk about. I'm so excited to create that culture."
Culture has undoubtedly been lacking with the Panthers, who have cycled through two coaches in the last year while searching for the right leader. They've also mortgaged significant future capital to select the quarterback they believe is the one to lead the franchise forward, Bryce Young, who had a remarkably rough rookie season.
After Young's first season was essentially wasted under the since-fired Frank Reich, many are worried the Panthers have already done irreparable damage to the former Heisman Trophy winner, who never looked comfortable leading an NFL offense in 2023. Carolina absolutely had to hire the right coach to pair with Young, because if this spin of the wheel doesn't land on the jackpot, it might prove to be fatal.
After watching Canales help Baker Mayfield both resurrect his career and post his best NFL season in 2023, Carolina believes he is the right man for the job. Now, Canales is set to begin working with Young to get him back on track.
"Attention to the details, first and foremost," Canales said when asked how he'll begin with Young. "It all starts off with relationship; Bryce and I just getting to know each other. I want him to know that I have his best interest at heart. I want him to be the best possible version of himself. That's the same approach that I've taken since I've been coaching positions in the NFL.
"That's really the approach that I want to take with him. Some of the other things that kind of come to mind when thinking of the quarterbacks I've worked with over the last couple of years, we're going to become what Bryce is great at in the pass game. We're going to grow to the capacity that he can handle. There's got to be a commitment and a discipline about that."
There are parallels to the careers of Young and Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence, whose own rookie season was wasted by Urban Meyer, a coach who was clearly not fit for the job and was fired, like Reich, during his first campaign.
Lawrence rebounded in his second season, thanks to the hiring of former NFL quarterback and coach Doug Pederson. Carolina would be ecstatic if Canales delivered a similar rebound.
Canales gave the best possible pitch to the Panthers without speaking at all. The results he produced with Mayfield -- a former No. 1 pick whose prospects looked rather dim entering 2023 -- spoke for themselves.
"There was a growth curve there with Baker (Mayfield)," Canales said on Thursday. "Here's where we're at today, based on the information we have. Let's get into these situations and see where he looks most confident. When I see that back foot planted in the ground and that ball rips out of there without any hesitation, I know we've got something. Let's find more of those, let's put it in three different personnels and a couple formations and motions."
Canales is hoping to enjoy the same gradual growth with Young, a player whose qualities mirror Mayfield in some aspects, especially in the playmaking department. Young also possesses an air about him that convinced the Panthers he was their franchise quarterback of the future, and even after a rough first season, that type of natural leadership can prove persistent enough to help such a talent make it through a storm of adversity to sunnier skies.
Just look at Mayfield. He'd been on three teams in 2022 before landing in Tampa in 2023, and by the end of the season, he'd not only proven himself capable of handling the job, but also confident enough to lead the entire franchise.
Canales believes the same is possible with Young.
"The more that I got ready for this interview and start watching Bryce," Canales said, "looking at the notes of his (evaluation) -- I mean, that's just a year ago -- we're evaluating him as a player, as a person, and with all the information that we could, I just got more and more fired up about the opportunity to have this amazing talent. And he's the guy -- he's the right guy that we all talk about when we have that quarterback, that face-of-the-franchise type of player, and that got me really excited."
Young is also similar to Mayfield in another department: Size. Mayfield owns a slight height advantage over Young, but neither possess prototypical builds many GMs seek. Canales is aware of the difficulties that may come with this reality -- batted balls, limited throwing windows, etc. -- but is more than prepared to handle them, even if he won't divulge his secrets in February.
"I think there are certain challenges – I'm not going to go and tell the whole NFC South what those advantages are," he said.
Reversing Carolina's fortunes will be about more than just quarterback, of course. The Panthers lack offensive weapons and didn't do Young any favors with protection in 2023. But this team isn't as bare as an expansion franchise. They just need to make wise decisions with the capital they have.
They won't have a first-round pick at their disposal. The trade to move up and select Young required them to send their 2024 first-rounder to Chicago. After finishing 2-15, that pick ended up being the first in the upcoming draft, which only rubbed more salt in the wound.
But that won't dismay Morgan or Canales. They still have the 33rd overall pick, and are working on a plan to fix things in Carolina with a focus on identity.
"The type of players we want to bring in here, DNA wise, first of all we need to find those leaders, those competitors, as (former Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart) would say, 'Those Dogs,' " Morgan said. "We need some dogs; we got to get some guys that are passionate about football, that love football, that want to come out everyday and compete on the practice field, in the weight room. We need competitors. We got to bring that back here. We got to bring that back here to Bank of America Stadium to where people get excited about coming to see our team.
"We're super passionate about bringing a team that fans can be proud of, that our players can be proud of. When teams drive up to this stadium, we want them to fear that logo. The logo has to be feared again, because now, it's not feared. So, we got to get that back, but I think that starts with getting the right type of players."
If anyone knows how to win in Charlotte, it's Morgan, a former linebacker who racked up 18 tackles in the Panthers' first Super Bowl appearance. He and Canales have quite a job on their hands, but with Young already on the roster, they might be a step ahead of other rebuilding efforts.
Time will tell. And for Canales, the time is now to get to work with Young. If Canales can engineer another turnaround with a quarterback in 2024, the Panthers will be in a much better place.