In a news conference full of broad generalizations, gulps of water and anecdotes including “Chicken Little,” Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman did offer one specific on what’s next.
“The first steps are evaluating,” he said, in his annual end-of-season press conference on Tuesday morning. “Basically, you’ve got two seasons in the NFL. You have a regular season and you have a roster-building season. It’s really important that we make unemotional, objective decisions. ...
“So, very frankly, we’re going to spend the next two weeks tearing down what happened, evaluating what happened, and making personnel decisions moving forward.”
What exactly that entails was not specified.
But what is clear is that regardless of what Gettleman and the staff do for the next two weeks, at some point Carolina will have to analyze its offense, its coaches, and begin looking ahead to the 2017 draft.
Offensive struggles were key in a season that dropped off from 15-1 and a Super Bowl berth in 2015 to 6-10 in 2016.
The Panthers were middle-of-the-pack by the end of the season in offense (ranked 15th), but in the types of close games the team became known for losing this year (six of eight games decided by a field goal or less were Panthers losses), offensive mediocrity isn’t going to cut it.
That may seem to start and end with quarterback Cam Newton, who posted career lows this season in completion percentage and quarterback rating, threw the second-most interceptions he has in his career (14) and tied the second-fewest touchdowns (19), but he is just one facet. Tuesday, Gettleman reiterated his belief that Newton is still the quarterback who can lead the Panthers “back into the promised land.”
But what about the offensive line? When left tackle Michael Oher went into the concussion protocol before Week 4, it was just start. The Panthers also lost veteran Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil to a shoulder injury and his backup, Gino Gradkowski, to a knee injury. All three ultimately went on injured reserve and the team had to shift right tackle Mike Remmers to the left side, put third-string Tyler Larsen in at center and rotate backup right tackle Daryl Williams with a guard, Trai Turner, when Williams later got hurt.
Head coach Ron Rivera has spoken in the past two weeks about the offense’s need to “evolve,” and dissecting what that means boils down to scheme and health. That starts up front. But were they prepared for a “position catastrophe?”
“I will make this statement,” said Gettleman. “There isn’t a day that goes by that I haven’t sat my big cheeks at my desk and (said), ‘Have I given Ron enough players? Have I given the coaching staff enough players?’
And yes, Gettleman said, he thinks that he gave Rivera enough players when they were all healthy at the start of the year. He attributed much of the offensive struggle the line’s health.
“But we’re not going to make excuses. We’re going to be accountable for what happens and we’re gonna get this fixed,” he said.
Rivera said he does not anticipate staff changes.
While defensive coordinator Sean McDermott and secondary coach Steve Wilks built a formidable group by the end of the season (and will interview for head coaching jobs with the Bills and the Rams, respectively), constantly in question in 2016 was coordinator Mike Shula and his offense.
Rivera was adamant on Monday that Shula is still the right person for the job.
And with all the talk Rivera has done about “needing to evolve the offense,” much of the focus was put on Newton and how he can rally after a season-long slump.
“You watched it just like I did,” Gettleman said. “We just couldn’t get any rhythm going this year. We really couldn’t.”
But does Shula also need to evolve? If so, how?
“I’m not going to get into that,” Rivera said on Monday in his end-of-season news conference with reporters.
Gettleman offered a somewhat confusing response.
“Evolve isn’t the right word,” he said. “The thing that we all have to understand is that maintaining the status quo will get your fanny beat, plain and simple.
“You guys try to get better at what you do – I hope, I assume – you want your articles in five years to be better than they are now, more insightful, more whatever. Well, again, I’ve stood up here and said I want to be a better GM every year. So it’s about stepping back, being brutally honest.”
The 2017 Draft
The draft decisions will be in direct response to what the Panthers do in free agency, and Gettleman suggested he’s willing to spend some money if he must.
But once the 2017 NFL Draft comes around?
“At the end of the day, picking (No.) 8, we’re gonna be looking at a really good player,” said Gettleman. “You know my philosophy, best player available. Last time we were down this low, some guy named Luke Kuechly was drafted.”
Safeties and corners are deep this year, Gettleman said.
“I think there’s a pretty good group of defensive ends, a good group of running backs, everybody knows that,” he added. “I think you guys have watched my act for four drafts. I don’t go in with any preconceived notions. We go through the process. We evaluate. We see where everything’s at, and we draft. You know? Draft.”