When Carolina Panthers‘ GM Dave Gettleman was hired in January of 2013, he faced a short-term migraine in the form of the team’s woeful salary cap situation. Tweaking and manipulating the Carolina checkbook like a brilliant cap-scientist in his laboratory, Gettleman has the Panthers pointed in the right direction.
Dave Gettleman’s “Gettle-Magic” is on full display in 2014 and his strategic moves are bordering on pure genius. Let’s start when he arrived on the scene in 2013.
Former GM Marty Hurney left the Panthers’ roster and organization looking like a weekend house party when the parents are out of town. Destroyed and overblown salaries had the Panthers $15MM over the salary cap.
Hardly a team that you look forward to inheriting, but Gettleman stepped up.
Known primarily as a keen-eyed scout in his previous employment, Gettleman got to work chiseling away at Carolina’s limited flexibility. He knew that he would have to hit the bargain-bin aisles at the local Free-Agency Market.
Gettleman brought in savvy veterans looking to reclaim their careers for whatever reason they may have stalled elsewhere.
Here are the 2013 free agents that were brought in:
- DT Colin Cole
- CB Drayton Florence
- S Mike Mitchell
- S Quintin Mikell
- WR Ted Ginn, Jr.
- TE Brandon Williams
- DT Colin Cole
- LB Chase Blackburn
- CB Melvin White
- S Robert Lester
- WR Brenton Bersin
- DE Wes Horton
Glancing over these names, you notice a pattern forming. Veterans that could be had for cheap and playing for a bigger contract.
The undrafted free agents that were signed was Gettleman utilizing his previous scouting experience and feel for the game. Melvin White and Brenton Bersin are looking like legitimate NFL players, and there’s still a chance that Robert Lester and Brandon Williams reach their potential.
The next area for Gettleman to attack was his specialty – the draft.
The Panthers entered the 2013 NFL Draft needing to get at least one starting defensive tackle out of it. They ended up with two.
Star Lotulelei falling into the Panthers’ laps at pick #14 was a no-brainer for the Carolina staff. Coming back around with the 44th selection and taking another DT was a risky, but forward-thinking move. Kawann Short was the highest-rated pass-rushing defensive tackle in the draft, and Gettleman doubled-down on the Purdue product.
The gamble was that the Panthers had other holes to address, but Gettleman’s approach showed he meant business about building a defense very reminiscent of the successful New York Giants’ teams – from the inside-out.
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Gettleman also nailed a bulls-eye with the value of drafting A.J. Klein in the fifth-round. Klein looks like the third-dimension to the Panthers’ starting linebacking unit.
As 2014 approached, the Panthers were still in salary-cap quicksand. Lots of money tied up in the running backs and defensive end positions. Charles Godfrey had an albatross-salary and Charles Johnson was enjoying every minute of his nickname, “Big Money”.
The offseason got underway with OT Jordan Gross abruptly announcing his retirement. This left a gaping hole at left tackle and potentially leaving your franchise signal caller unprotected.
Then, Gettleman made his biggest splash since arriving in Charlotte this past winter when he released iconic-Panther wide receiver, Steve Smith. The backlash was harsh and I was expecting to see an angry mob of torch-toting citizens trying to burn Bank of America Stadium to the ground.
Tempers were flaring locally, and in the national media. The Panthers were perceived as cheap and not trying to help Cam Newton out.
The sky was falling in Charlotte. No left tackle. No receivers. Two beloved players no longer here, and barely enough money to piece together a competitive 53-man roster.
Dave Gettleman never wavered on his confident stance. He would hit the clearance rack again in free agency and bring in players that fit the same mold of 2013.
The Panthers steered away from the marque-free agent studs, and brought in these veteran players:
- WR Jerricho Cotchery
- WR Jason Avant
- TE Ed Dickson
- CB Antoine Cason
- S Thomas DeCoud
- S Roman Harper
- WR Stephen Hill
Gettleman needed wiggle room with the cap in order to free up money, so he swallowed a huge chunk of change when he franchised DE Greg Hardy. Gettleman knew he had to keep the defense intact until the cap nightmare is over, so he kept the strength of the defensive trenches together.
Gettleman has shown a prudent hand in free agency, but flexed money where he knew he had to with Hardy.
None of the free agents brought in will set the NFL world on fire, but all fit the puzzle as a whole. The sum of the parts in ’14 is greater than that of ’13.
I’m going to tell you right now don’t write that in the draft “the Panthers are taking this, this and this.” I promise you, we’re going to take the best player on the board. There’s an old saying guys, “keep your strengths strong.” – Dave Gettleman, 2014 NFL Combine
Thus far Antoine Cason, Roman Harper and the two receivers look great. Cason is having a renaissance-year so far in 2014 under his old Defensive Coordinator from San Diego, Ron Rivera.
The Panthers’ GM had a very successful 2014 draft too. You look to snag two or three starters from each draft, and it looks like Carolina has snagged four.
Kony Ealy in the second-round and Trai Turner in the third-round were value picks that will payoff for years to come. Having Ealy on the roster makes Hardy expendable after 2014. Turner is an athletic beast on the interior of the offensive line and will help heavily in the run game.
Bene Benwikere is looking like the value-pick of the draft, but knowing Gettleman’s prowess for picking talent out of a crowd, it’s actually not a surprise. The rookie-cornerback has locked down the nickel slot and is making big plays already.
After the draft, the General Manager and the Panthers’ team was criticized for not filling the offensive tackle void via the draft or free agency. Gettleman didn’t flinch, and stuck to his mantra that “Sometimes, the answer is on your roster.”
Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
The Panthers confidently moved Byron Bell over to left tackle to replace Gross and believe Nate Chandler is the answer at right tackle. Both of these players were perceived to be better than what could have been drafted or acquired via free agency.
So far, Gettleman looks correct on both accounts.
Gettleman has struck a brilliant formula to success in Carolina. Bring in veteran, team-first players with something to prove, and sign them to “prove-it” contracts. Then, draft three or four starting-caliber players that fill a need and can contribute immediately. Add it to a roster of talented players like Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly, Charles Johnson and Greg Olsen, and you have an NFC powerhouse brewing.
What GM Dave Gettleman has done in Carolina is amazing, given the situation and resources he had when hired. Imagine what Gettleman can do in 2015 and beyond when the pursestrings get loosened.
After a 2-0 start, there’s a buzz rolling through the Carolinas right now. Dave Gettleman’s blueprint has been questioned by some, but as you can tell, the man has Carolina on a bright path to consistent success.