Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman, in Orlando at the NFL owners meetings, made his first extended public comments since last month’s Combine on Tuesday. While he didn’t accidentally drop hints about upcoming bombshells like he did in Indy, he did share a handful of useful nuggets.
As always, there’s more to be gleaned from much of what he said, so here are five take-aways:
1) Cam Newton’s Going to be a Panther for the Foreseeable Future
There’s no reason to freak out about Newton’s contract right now. While he’s the franchise’s most important player, he hasn’t been the most important order of business for a team facing more immediate concerns. Chances of a long-term lockup happening this offseason were slim, and Gettleman indicated he’ll give Newton the fifth-year club option by the May 3 deadline.
But if you just can’t help but be worried, here’s the worst-case scenario: The option would put Newton in Carolina through 2015, and if the two sides still haven’t worked out a long-term deal by then, the Panthers could use their franchise tag in 2016 and possibly even in 2017.
Again, that’s worst-case scenario. This one is much more likely: Newton will eventually (next offseason) get a deal that makes him one of the richest men to ever play football. And that will be with the Panthers, who have made many moves this offseason that can in large part be explained when Newton gets his huge contract.
2) Don’t Hold Your Breath for a Greg Hardy Deal
Gettleman hasn’t gotten very far in negotiations on a long-term deal for Hardy and it’s unlikely that will change by the July 15 deadline.
The franchise-tagged Hardy is owed $13.1 million in 2014. With the Panthers salary-cap stressed, they could get some potential relief in the form of a Hardy long-term deal. But how much space would that really free up?
In terms of cash value, his salary is second-highest for a defensive end in 2014. Only Chris Long, due $13.4 from the Rams, will make more.
We’ve gotten to know many things about Hardy over the last four years and one is he really likes money. Do you think he’d gladly accept less than what would make him the highest-paid player at his position? How about on his team? Charles Johnson is owed $9 million next season. Hardy would want more.
So while a long-term deal would give the Panthers a little bit more cap room in 2014, it’s not like it would allow Gettleman to go on a huge shopping spree.
If Hardy plays like a Pro Bowler again next year, Carolina will likely have to let him walk. The tag allowed the Panthers to keep their defensive end duo together one more season, so enjoy it before Hardy gets the enormous money he truly wants somewhere else in 2015.
3) If They Can’t Find an NFL-Ready Left Tackle in the Draft, Byron Bell Will Get a Shot
Gettleman isn’t as down on Bell as many fans are. There’s no question he’s struggled at right tackle, so moving him to the more-important left side seems potentially disastrous.
While they weren’t a player in the pricey free agent rush earlier this month, the Panthers could still find Jordan Gross’ replacement in May’s draft. If they do, that guy’s going to take his lumps, just like Bell will if he’s at left tackle.
Also, while it makes sense to be concerned about Newton’s blindside, let’s not ignore the importance of a strong right side. That’s where NFL teams like to run, and to do that, they need powerful lineman. That’s not Bell. He’s athletic for his size, but he’s not powerful.
The Panthers may give him a legit shot to stick at left tackle while hoping to improve their ground game with a guy better suited at right tackle. It’s not an ideal option, but it is an option.
4) It’s Too Early to Make a Call on Charles Godfrey
Gettleman didn’t have much to say when asked about Godfrey, but that’s because the Panthers really do need to see how healthy their former starting safety can get.
Godfrey tore his Achilles early last season, and while that can be a devastating injury for a player’s future, the team is happy with where Godfrey is at in the rehab process. It’s hard to see him doing much before training camp, but the $5.1 million the Panthers could save by cutting him after June 1 doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be a cap casualty.
Sure, they’d like to restructure, but they’d also like him back as one of their starters if he’s healthy. Right now, he’s on the right track.
5) Steve Smith’s Release Was a “Football Decision”
A couple weeks after finalizing the unpopular call to cut one of Carolina’s most-popular players, Gettleman labeled it “a football decision.” So what does that mean?
Well, there’s no reason to look at what the Ravens are saying in comparison to what the Panthers’ did. John Harbaugh said more great things about Smith Tuesday, but what else would Baltimore’s coach say? That he’s expecting Smith to be a huge pain who can’t play anymore?
To Gettleman, the decision was a lot like most others he’s made this offseason. It wasn’t as much about 2014 as it was part of a cumulative plan for next season and beyond.
Production-wise, Smith wasn’t going to lead the Panthers to the Super Bowl. We saw the limitations the team’s receivers had last season, and even if Carolina kept Smith plus a few affordable parts, the passing game would still fail to strike fear into the NFC’s elite.
So Gettleman’s thinking at receiver is to improve by getting younger. Does signing 31-year-old Jerricho Cotchery make you younger? No, but he is a much better mentor for younger players than Smith.
The Panthers strongly believe the way to sustained success is through developing their younger players. Smith was neither young nor someone they believed they could depend on to help develop younger guys. That all played a part in Gettleman’s football decision.