There came a point during free agency -- right about the time the Panthers parted ways with Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn and Dominik Hixon -- where it was fair to wonder if general manager Dave Gettleman valued the wide receiver position at all.
But Carolina eventually signed veteran wideouts Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant, Tiquan Underwood and tight end Ed Dickson to add some depth, though it wasn't enough to keep running back DeAngelo Williams from joking that all the roster upheaval in the passing game had made him a first-round fantasy pick.
The Panthers further bolstered the wide receiver corps when they used their first-round pick on 6-5, 240-pound Kelvin Benjamin, but it's not often the case that a rookie comes in and contributes right away. Which is why media and fans consider Carolina's pass catchers among the worst units in the league.
This development hasn't gone unnoticed, according to quarterback Cam Newton, who considers the slight a personal affront.
"The elephant in the room has already been stated," Newton said, according to the Charlotte Observer's Jonathan Jones. "Those guys have already accepted the challenge. You don't have to go in there and tell those guys, 'Hey, you're projected the sorriest receivers in the NFL.' We already know.
"But with that, those guys already have that fire in their eyes. I would rather those guys be like that and for them to go out there and bust their tails like they've been doing. It's kind of like a slap in -- not only their face -- but my face as well. The things that have been said, the reports, who cares? Because at the end of the day, we will be ready to play football, and Carolina Panthers football. Hard-nosed, and everybody's going to have to do their job.
"This is something that is not new. This is something that was expected last year. This is something that was expected the year before that, five years before that, 10 years before that. At the end of the day, when you look around those 11 specific position, everyone has to do their job. And I have no doubt in my mind, come game time, everyone will be on the same page with doing their rightful obligation."
Newton has every right to be offended, but the reality is that last season no one expected the Panthers to go 12-4 and win the NFC South. In fact, after Carolina's 1-3 start we were all talking about whether coach Ron Rivera would get fired before Halloween. Then the team got hot, reeled off eight straight, and we all forgot about that first month of some pretty awful football.
Put another way: It's reasonable to expect the Panthers to regress in 2014. Not only because Newton will have an entirely new group of wideouts to work with, but also because everything fell into place in '13.