Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman spent about 10 minutes talking to the media from one of the podiums at the NFL Combine Thursday afternoon, and then another 10 minutes with a smaller group. Not surprisingly, he didn’t provide many specifics about pending free agents and contracts, but he did drop a handful of nuggets. Here are 12 of his most meaningful quotes, followed by my analysis of what each might mean.
On where the Panthers stand with defensive end Greg Hardy
Right now we’re talking to agents. He’s part of the puzzle. We’re cap-challenged. Last year when we started we were quite a bit over. We had to do some maneuvering to get under before the first day of the league year. The progress we’ve made this year is we don’t have to do any of that. But that doesn’t mean we’re sitting here with $35 million under the cap. So if you always go for the immediate instant gratification, you’re going to get burned.
What it may mean: The Panthers have a number of options: They could sign Hardy to a long-term deal, they could tag him, they could tag and trade, or they could let him walk. Gettleman pretty much insinuated he knows what he’s going to do and that answer may be found in this next quote.
On having too many big-money players on a roster
It’s the third year with this new cap. It’s a brave new world and we’re all trying to figure it out. I think it’s a mistake if you have 10 guys that are making all the money. I think it’s a mistake.
What it may mean: The Panthers are facing cap hits of at least $5 million on nine guys in 2014: Charles Johnson, Ryan Kalil, Greg Olsen, Charles Godfrey, Cam Newton, Steve Smith, DeAngelo Williams, Thomas Davis, Jonathan Stewart. Add up those hits and you get a number around $73 million. That means nine players take up more than half the team’s cap. Are they willing to add another big number? Hardy would make 10.
On being cap-challenged for at least a couple more years
How nice would it be to roll into Indianapolis $25 million under the cap? I’m not saying we’re going to be there tomorrow, we’re not. The point is, if you’re constantly up against the wall, you can’t maneuver.
What it may mean: The 2014 salary cap reportedly will be raised from $123 million to $130 million, giving Gettleman a bit more breathing room. That doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll use it. If he has to spend every dollar he’s allowed, he will, but building in space for the future — see: re-signing stars like QB Cam Newton and LB Luke Kuechly — is a big part of what he’s planning.
On the future of Jordan Gross
This is completely his decision. He’s worked too hard, too long. We use the phrase around our place, “he’s earned the right.” Jordan Gross has earned the right to make this decision.
What it may mean: The Panthers have a spot for Gross if he wants it. He’s currently in Idaho with his family mulling things over. Most are assuming he’ll be back. Don’t assume that anymore. I’m hearing retirement is very much on his mind.
On how the Panthers are scouting Michael Sam
We’re going to evaluate Michael as a football player, and if he’s on the board when it’s our turn to pick and he’s the highest rated guy on our board, we’ll take him.
What it may mean: Gettleman echoed what most GMs and coaches are saying publicly. If they think Sam can help win them games, he’ll be considered. Simple as that.
On his reaction to the Dolphins scandal
We have an engaged owner and Ron and I are constantly downstairs. We are buzzing through that place all day long. Ron has been very proactive about it and we believe we have a great locker room. Beyond the talent, you’re not going to get to 12-4 if your locker room’s a mess.
What it may mean: Every locker room has its issues. The Dolphins were an extreme case. It’s hard to see something like what happened in Miami happening under Rivera’s nose.
On the overall plan
What we have to do is be very thoughtful in planning our cap, planning our strategy, planning our budget. What you’re looking for is sustained success. That’s what you want. You don’t want to jump up, have a great year and for the next two years you’re floundering around. There’s only two teams in this league that have had winning seasons four years in a row — New England and Green Bay, and Green Bay was 8-7-1 this year. That’s what our goal is.
What it may mean: It’s hard to explain how badly Jerry Richardson wants to see his team finally have back-to-back winning seasons. But that still won’t be enough. Becoming a consistent winner is Richardson’s white whale and that’s Gettleman’s main charge.
On how the Panthers can beat the best team they’re going to play
This is a big man’s game, I don’t care what anybody says. The game’s evolving, the style of play’s evolving, but it’s a big man’s game. Big men win, it’s just the way it is. You look at Seattle and they’ve got heavy bodies up front, their linebackers are a little bit smaller, but that secondary’s monstrous. It’s a big man’s game, don’t let anybody tell you any different, and that’s what we have to do.
What it may mean: The Panthers will host Seattle for the third straight season. They’ve lost the previous two meetings against the defending Super Bowl champs, and while the games have been close, Carolina needs to get bigger on its lines to get over their Seahawks hump.
On what the Panthers need to improve this offseason
We’d like to improve our secondary, we’d like to improve offensively. One of the things that got lost in the sauce with us offensively was all the injuries we were dealing with on the offensive line. By the time we got down to Nate (Chandler) we were dealing with our sixth offensive guard. Can we get better there? Who can’t? So those are areas we’re going to look to address.
What it may mean: The Panthers want to improve their offensive line and secondary. BREAKING? But while it seems reasonable to pencil in, say, an offensive tackle with their 28th pick in May’s draft, don’t be so sure.
On why drafting an offensive tackle in the first round isn’t a sure thing
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.”
What it may mean: Gettleman’s a staunch believer in both of these things: 1) you win with big guys, 2) you draft the best player available. When both philosophies crash into each other, like they often do during a draft, Gettleman will choose the latter.
On how the Panthers will approach free agency this offseason
Our free agency is going to be just like last year’s. We’re going to look at guys that we feel have been overlooked that can help us.
What it may mean: Don’t expect big headlines come March 11. The Panthers aren’t going to be big players in free agency. One-year deals and Band-Aids on positions of need will be the order of the offseason again.
On Steve Smith’s future with the Panthers
Steve’s had a great career, he really has. None of us are here forever. He’s part of the evaluation process and that’s just the way it is.
What it may mean: This may end up being the most important nugget from Gettleman, one that seemed to slip past most today. Like Gross, many are just assuming Smith will be back. Unlike Gross, Smith is still under contract. I’ve heard whispers about this one for a few weeks and it’s time fans start preparing themselves for what may happen. Gettleman isn’t afraid to pull the trigger on tough decisions and this one could shake the fan base. Standby.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0 — p1osz03I