Mobile, Ala. Carolina Panthers will leave, and others will return., The pressure is on general manager Dave Gettleman to figure out who will be in which group.
This offseason, Gettleman must deal with 21 unrestricted free agents, contract extensions for star players, seven picks in Mays draft and formulating a plan to get the Panthers to the postseason in consecutive years for the first time in franchise history.
Gettleman has already said Cam Newton is the franchise quarterback, but whats the price tag? Steve Smith, the Panthers top receiver, is not getting any younger. And Greg Hardys record-tying 15 sacks in 2013 drove up his price for a team that, as Gettleman recently reminded everyone multiple times, is salary cap-challenged.
The Observers Jonathan Jones sat down with Gettleman for an hour-long interview at the Senior Bowl to discuss a range of topics. In Part 1 of the Observers three-part Q&A, Gettleman discusses his plans for some of the teams top players and its coach, Ron Rivera.
Q. What impressed you the most about Cam Newton this year?
A. The maturity.
Q. Was that really a big thing for you? I assume you heard a lot about that from the outside before you came here.
A. Just step back and put yourself in his shoes: first pick of the draft, youre seen as the savior, in athletics youve had very few failures and then you walk into the NFL, 2-14, coming out of the lockout with no OTAs (Organized Team Activities) with no nothing. The way he accepted leadership, the way he grew, you guys wrote about how he was letting his teammates help him, his improvement in reading the field and going through his progressions. I mean, that (79-yard) touchdown pass to (Brandon) LaFell in Minnesota, that was his last read. So all those things.
Last year when I talked about quarterbacks, I made the statement that at some point in time you have to make plays from the pocket. Every quarterback in the NFL has to make plays from the pocket. Now the next day Im reading an article, Cam may be moving on. I didnt say that at all, I just said he had to make plays from the pocket.
He did it against San Francisco, New England, New Orleans. He did it over and over again this year. So thats what Im talking about. Im not talking about maturity like you can trust him going out of town. Im talking about on the field, understanding the game, the game slowing down.
Ive talked to great players because Ive been around them and I said a couple of them, that phrase the game slowing down, is that real and accurate? They said yeah. It really is. It gets easy. And I think this is whats happened for him.
And Im going to tell you this, he works his fanny off. He is in the facility more than you can imagine. Hes in there Monday nights, Tuesday mornings, Tuesday afternoons, Tuesday evenings. Its important to him.
Q. I know you dont talk specifically about contracts
A. No. That wont happen (laughs).
Q. With Cams rookie deal and the most recent collective bargaining agreement giving rookies much less money than in the past, with guys like Matthew Stafford who came before Cam in the draft getting big second contracts on top of big first contracts, how is that going to complicate matters when it comes time to deal with Cams contract?
A. When youre in negotiations let me back up. How is it going to affect it? I dont know. Time will tell. The bottom line is, its a new NFL. You dont have those $5-7 million spikes anymore. Its not going to happen. Everybodys learning.
Let me tell you something: Not to pat ourselves on the back but we read the market pretty well. We saw where the market was going, and you saw what we did. Back in the old days you had 325 (unrestricted free agents), right now were at almost 500. And youre going to get, Im guessing, 75 cap-hit guys, guys that are making too much money for their team. So at some point in time as a player youre going to make a decision:Do I want to keep doing these one-year deals, not knowing where Im going to be, dragging my family around in the hopes that Im going to hit the lottery, or am I going to sign a modest three-year deal so I know where Im going to be and have a chance to win?
Thats where the rubber meets the road. When that happens, players are going to step back and say I dont want to be a gypsy.
Q. But thats not Cam.
A. No, thats not Cam. Its going to be interesting to see where it goes. The bottom line is, as long as the player wants to be with the team who wants him to be there, you come to an agreement. Its just a matter of a common ground and getting to a value that both sides can live with.
Q. But you guys are going to be the guinea pig. Youll be Patient Zero because Cam is the first player taken in the new CBA. Teams will look to you for the precedent.
A. Its going to be fun. Its going to be interesting. Theres going to be a lot of work, a lot of research. A lot of thought is going to go into it. Philosophically, Im going to start with a fair offer. Its going to be fair. And then well move from there.
Q. Will it be this offseason for sure?
A. Who knows?
Q. What do you want to do with Greg Hardy an extension, a franchise tag or let him walk in free agency?
A. Hes part of the puzzle.
Q. Is he a puzzle to you?
A. Not for me.
Q. So its an easy call for you?
A. I got to watch 17 games worth of stuff, but hes obviously a presence. Anybody can see that. Its part of it. Weve got to evaluate the whole thing and then come up with a plan.
Q. But hes part of your plan moving forward?
A. Well see.
Q. Do you have a tentative plan, or have you drawn out on a napkin, what life will be like after Steve Smith?
A. I love it. On a napkin. Its like were sitting at a bar. Steve has just had a tremendous career. Hes 34. Hes exceeded the normal career of any wide receiver and he should be very proud of what hes accomplished and hes been a great Carolina Panther. Who knows? You dont know when hes going to be done.
Q. Well its going to be sooner rather than later. You dont think he can go another 13 years, right?
A. No, I dont think so. Who knows? I dont know. Do I think about these things? Of course I do.
Q. Does it trouble you?
A. In 2011 when I was with the Giants, we came out of camp and we had been getting killed all offseason about our wide receiver position. Now if anybody from the Giants tells you they knew all along that Victor Cruz was going to be that good, it wouldnt be accurate. We thought Victor was talented, and he just needed to play. And we have some young guys that we think are talented, and they need to play. Youre not going to get better on the sideline. Youve got to get between the white stripes. And we think some of these young guys are talented, weve got to find out how good they can be. And thats part of the process.
Q. Ron Rivera is entering the final year of his four-year deal. With the improvements Ron has made from six to seven to 12 wins and a division title, and youre a fair guy, is it fair for him to go into this season a lame duck coach, or do you want to extend him?
A. Well again, to answer your question, I said in the press conference, Ive got ultimate confidence in him. And thats the exact quote. And I still do. So