In addition to hiring a new head coach — John Fox is expected to move on when his contract expires after the season — the Panthers' front office is going to have some difficult decisions to make on personnel after the 2010 season is complete.
Many observers will be closely monitoring the way it handles the situation at running back.
RB DeAngelo Williams' contract will expire in the offseason, and the Panthers haven't pursued signing him to an extension. They're not looking to add a contract that includes a large chunk of guaranteed money with the potential for a work stoppage looming in 2011.
That doesn't mean he won't be back, however.
We're told the Panthers are not opposed to bringing back Williams, who is expected to miss his second straight game Sunday because of a foot sprain, in '11, and Williams hasn't said he doesn't want to stay with the team. Williams is likely going to be asking for a contract that would pay him more than $7 million per year, but Carolina could use the franchise tag on him if the two sides can't agree on a long-term deal.
One source says there's even a chance the Panthers will bring Williams back and then listen to trade offers for RB Jonathan Stewart, who is on pace to have the least productive season of his three-year career by far.
Some members of the Panthers' offensive line are having an off year, but Stewart hasn't looked like he did late last season, when he rushed for 109 yards or more in four of the final five games while Williams sat out with an injury. Stewart is averaging just 2.8 yards per carry and has only two touchdowns (one receiving). He's played through pain for much of his career, but we hear that health has not been an issue for him during this rough stretch.
The Panthers like their depth at running back with young, developing players in '09 fourth-round pick Mike Goodson and undrafted second-year man Tyrell Sutton, so it shouldn't come as a surprise if Williams or Stewart is deemed expendable in the offseason.