Could Carolina Panthers' biggest personnel flaw condemn Scott Fitterer?

The general manager is coming under fire for his questionable roster construction...

Scott Fitterer
Scott Fitterer / Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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Could general manager Scott Fitterer's handling of the saga surrounding edge rusher Brian Burns eventually decide his Carolina Panthers' fate?

Scott Fitterer came into the Carolina Panthers with a big reputation and a bold mindset. His in on every deal quote during an introductory presser followed him over the last three years. While the general manager is active, that hasn't always brought success.

Nobody is going to hit on every free-agent signing or draft pick. Fitterer seemed incredibly pleased with the way his recruitment unfolded throughout the 2023 offseason. This led to bold claims about the Panthers winning the NFC South and potentially going deep into the postseason.

Carolina Panthers biggest question could condemn Scott Fitterer

How wrong he was. And yet, the biggest question mark is arguably surrounding his handling of the situation with Brian Burns.

Fitterer's turned down countless trade offers for Burns. These included a whopping offer from the Los Angeles Rams in 2022 when the Panthers looked like they might be holding a fire sale after firing Matt Rhule and parting ways with running back Christian McCaffrey. Something that Joe Person of The Athletic stated would have provided Carolina extra flexibility during their bold move to No. 1 overall in the 2023 NFL Draft for quarterback Bryce Young.

"The deal that looks questionable a year later is the one Fitterer didn’t make. The Rams offered two future first-round picks — in 2024 and ’25 — plus a third in ’23 for Burns, who was in the midst of a career-best, 12 1/2-sack season. Trading Burns would have left the Panthers without their best player on a defense that has kept them in a lot of games the past two seasons. But the Panthers might have been able to flip the two firsts to Chicago, allowing them to trade for the No. 1 pick without giving up their own first in ’24 and wideout DJ Moore, who would have been an invaluable weapon for rookie quarterback Bryce Young."

Joe Person, The Athletic
Carolina Panthers
Brian Burns / Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Fitterer claimed Burns was a cornerstone piece the Panthers weren't going to trade under any circumstances. Looking at how the player's contract stalemate unfolded during the offseason, these words could be seen as empty.

Burns' representatives couldn't get a deal done before the season. The former first-round pick stopped negotiations to focus on football. He was nothing but a model professional throughout the process while others around the league sat out and got paid. This faith was not repaid by the Panthers.

Even with one win and no first-round pick, Fitterer spurned more advances before the 2023 trade deadline. All signs point to the Panthers placing Burns on the franchise tag once the season ends to prevent him from leaving in free agency. Person added that the reported figure being touted on his long-term deal is around $30 million per season according to sources.

This entire situation has been managed terribly by Fitterer. This is a loyal player who loves the Panthers. He might not be among the genuinely elite pass-rushers, but he's the best Carolina has by a considerable margin. If he doesn't like the asking price, tough. It's called NFL inflation and the current going rate.

Whether Fitterer will be around when contract talks begin again is anyone's guess. Frank Reich's already been fired. The two other NFL teams who've parted ways with their head coach this season have also canned the general manager. But Tepper is not known for being a traditionalist when it comes to decision-making.

If he keeps Fitterer around, it'll be surprising. His mismanagement of Burns' situation alone indicates a fresh approach is needed. However, one also has to wonder how much influence Tepper has had throughout the process given his preference to meddle in football-related matters.

With the season rapidly coming to an end, it won't be much longer before we find out one way or another.

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