"When you're that good you're going to have opportunities to have other looks," Olsen said. "He's obviously one of the deserving candidates. Look what he has done to this offense this year. Obviously the players are important, but the guy pulling the strings had a lot to do with it. When you take a rookie quarterback and a shortened offseason and a lot of different moving parts... putting that all together is a true testament to how good of a coach he is."
The Panthers had all sorts of injury problems this year, losing 18 players to injured reserve.
Their defense, in particular, was a disaster by the time Week 17 arrived allowing the Saints to pile up more than 500 total yards in a 45-17 loss Sunday.
Still, the Panthers finished 6-10 this season, but led in 14 of 16 games.
They struggled in close games, losing six in which they were either leading or tied in the fourth quarter.
"It's tough especially because we've been up a lot this year against a lot of good football teams and haven't been able to finish out," Kalil said. "Hopefully that's something we can improve on. That's the part of us that needs to grow up. So that's what we're going to focus on moving forward."
Gross, who is the second-most tenured player on the roster, said he likes the direction the Panthers are headed.
He said things are completely different than they were last year at this time.
"Compared to finishing 2-14 with not a lot of promise and with the No. 1 pick and with a lot of uncertainty with the staff leaving was a lot tougher to deal with this year," Gross said. "I think there are only good things coming here in the future and we're only going to get better."
Smith, who led the team with 1,394 yards receiving and seven receiving touchdowns, said the Panthers will continue to go up next year saying he has plenty of faith in coach Ron Rivera.
"I guarantee we're going to the playoffs next year," Smith said.
Notes: Smith said he's taking the entire receiving corps with him to the Pro Bowl in Hawaii later this month, saying, "I didn't get there by myself." ... Cornerback Darius Butler had surgery on Monday to repair a broke radius in his left wrist. Wide receiver Legedu also had surgery to repair a broken bone in his left foot. Both should be ready in time for minicamp.
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