It was the spring of 2013 when Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman introduced Carolinians to “hog mollies.”
But it wasn’t until the second night of the NFL draft that Panthers fans truly understood Gettleman’s deep affinity for big linemen.
With his second-round selection and the 44th overall pick, Gettleman drafted Purdue defensive tackle Kawann Short. Short followed first-rounder Star Lotulelei and marked just the fourth time since 1991 a team had taken defensive tackles with its first two picks.
So no one should have been surprised Monday when the Panthers signed Short to a five-year contract worth $80.5 million, including $45 million guaranteed, according to a league source. Though the process was a year in the making and included a franchise-tag designation, Short said there was never any real doubt he and the team would come to terms.
“From Day 1, man, they believed in me. From the NFL combine to the private workouts to even having private conversations with a lot of people on the staff before (being) drafted, we just had an understanding and I felt more at home when I got here,” Short said Monday shortly after signing his extension.
“These guys took a chance on me,” he added. “I had so many teams pass me up. Just being able to commit to somebody who’s committed to me, you can’t ask for anything better.”
The Panthers passed on Short in the first round in 2013, with Gettleman opting to take the run-stuffing, space-eating Lotulelei to keep blockers off middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, whom former GM Marty Hurney had taken in the first round the previous year.
While Carolina needed a cornerback following Chris Gamble’s retirement, Gettleman doubled down at defensive tackle with Short, an athletic, former high school basketball player who, some scouts claimed, took plays off at Purdue.
“When we drafted KK, I thought he was the best pass-rushing defensive tackle in the draft, and he’s been able to develop into one of the top young defensive tackles in the NFL,” Gettleman said in a release. “Off the field, KK is a top-notch young man and great representative of our team. I’m absolutely thrilled that we were able to get this deal done.”
Besides Lotulelei, three other defensive tackles were drafted ahead of Short four years ago -- Sheldon Richardson (13th to the Jets), Sharrif Floyd (23rd, Minnesota) and Sylvester Williams (28th, Denver).
Richardson was NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in ’13 and went to the Pro Bowl in ’14. But he’s been suspended twice and is reportedly on the trading block after a drop-off in production.
Floyd had 9.5 sacks over his first three seasons, but complications from knee surgery could end his career. Williams, a nose tackle from UNC, signed a three-year, $17.5 million with Tennessee last month.
Meanwhile, Short has backed up Gettleman’s belief that he was the best interior pass-rusher in the ’13 draft. Short’s 17 combine sacks the past two season rank third among defensive tackles, behind Cincinnati’s Geno Atkins (20) and the Rams’ Aaron Donald (19).
Short’s new contract will place him among the five highest-paid defensive tackles in the league.
And he says his goal over the next five years is simple: Be the best defensive tackle in the game.
“That’s the ultimate goal,” he said, while also noting he wants to return to the Super Bowl and leave with the Lombardi Trophy.
Cornerback Josh Norman’s very public contract negotiations and holdout threats were the first indications that 2016 was not going to be the distraction-free joy ride that was the Super Bowl season.
From the earliest days of training camp last year, Short had to hear observers compare his situation to that of Norman, whose franchise tag was rescinded in a stunning move a week before the draft.
But there was at least one difference: Norman isn’t a hog molly.
Also worth pointing out (which Short did at the end of last season): He and Norman are different dudes.
“I knew it wasn’t going to turn out that way,” Short said. “Either I was going to sign the tender or get an extension.”
The extension -- which will include $40 million over the first two years -- will make Short a rich man. But he didn’t have any big plans to celebrate Monday, which was the start of the Panthers’ offseason workouts.
Because he was at Bank of America Stadium signing his contract Monday morning and doing a conference call with reporters, he missed his workout time in the weight room.
“So I’ve got to make it up in a couple hours,” he said.
As for the longer term, don’t be surprised if Short expands on the book drives he’s held in his hometown of East Chicago, where he’s donated at least 10,000 library books to the city’s public schools.
And he might finally buy a house in Charlotte.
“I never bought one because I couldn’t find one in one of the areas I wanted,” he explained.
He should have his pick now -- a more permanent home for one of the Panthers’ original hog mollies.