Dec 22, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers free safety Mike Mitchell (21) points to the crowd after knocking away a pass during the second quarter against the New Orleans Saints at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

One Player David Gettleman Should Keep: Free Safety Mike Mitchell

Back in August, I said Mike Mitchell was my pick for “unlikeliest pleasant surprise” for 2013.

THAT, you gotta admit, was a pretty gutsy call on my part and the fact it wound up being correct is almost as much a surprise to me as it was with everyone else before we saw him take the field. Now that the season is over and considering Mitchell’s career path prior to 2013, few people saw it coming. At least I didn’t see a soul saying that about the guy.

Jump to January 2014 and the Carolina Panthers and David Gettleman face 40% of the names on the team being free agents. A lot of that was by design, as the salary cap really handcuffed Gettleman last season, but he managed to find some inexpensive (read: affordable) free agents that contributed above their pay-grade in 2013.

Ted Ginn, jr. Quentin Mikell. Colin Cole. Drayton Florence.

And, yes, Mike Mitchell.

Mitchell tied NFL Defensive Player of the Year Luke Kuechly for the team lead in interceptions with four, added another four sacks from the safety position, and had 67 tackles last year. With tackling machines like Kuechly and Thomas Davis, Mitchell didn’t need to make a whole lot of tackles against the run. However, his ball-hawking in the passing game and his hard-hitting, razor’s edge persona really fits with the defensive scheme and the hard-nosed personality the defense has earned.

Between the safeties on the team, Charles Godfrey is a lock to make the roster because of the dead cap space issue ($5 million worth) and Mitchell is a better player than Godfrey is, period. I’ve never been sold on Godfrey, but he’s out of the equation for this discussion.

If Gettleman has to let one safety go, Quintin Mikell is the most expendable one. He’ll be 34 in September and his best days are, as my fellow catcrave.com writer Tony Cardwell noted, behind him but could stay on as a reserve if he comes at a cap-friendly price.

For the record, Mitchell had career highs in tackles (67 combined), sacks (4 – with 3.5 total sacks in his four years in Oakland), interceptions (4 this year – with only two in Oakland in those four years), and forced two of his career three fumbles this season.

It looks to me like he’s a bit of a late-bloomer and that’s just fine with me. He was overdrafted in the second round out of Ohio University by Al Davis, who had a history of falling in love with fast and/or freakish athletes. The part of the story that is generally NOT so well-known is that the Chicago Bears had targeted him to be drafted two picks later…then traded that pick when Mitchell was taken off the board.

He ran a 4.43 at Ohio U’s pro day so we know he can motor it. The physical skills have always been there but he just needed a chance to learn the NFL game and get on the field and shine.

That much he certainly did do in 2013. Let’s hope Gettleman can find the cash to keep him around for a few more seasons at the very least.

Follow me on Twitter @Ken_Dye

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