The next week or two should give everyone a clear indication of just how much team captains and Pro Bowlers Thomas Davis and Greg Olsen mean to Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson.
After Richardson fired general manager Dave Gettleman on Monday without offering much in the way of explanation, the most plausible theory hinged on two of Richardson’s favorite players.
The irony is the factors that helped Gettleman get hired in 2013 – a strong scouting eye with no emotional attachment to players drafted or acquired by Marty Hurney –might have been the same ones that got him fired eight days before the Panthers will report to Wofford.
Gettleman wasn’t going to show Davis and Olsen the door the way he did Steve Smith, Josh Norman, Jon Beason and DeAngelo Williams, but he didn’t seem to be in any hurry to rework their contracts, either.
With Gettleman now on permanent vacation in Cape Cod, the man who signs the checks at 800 South Mint Street now can solely determine how much – and how much longer – he wants to keep paying Davis and Olsen.
Of all the tweets sent out by aggrieved former employees Monday after Gettleman was pink-slipped, the most telling one might have come from ex-fullback Mike Tolbert, who was cut in February.
Tolbert, now a member of the Panthers’ satellite office in Buffalo, said on Instagram: “Now it looks like everyone’s getting what they wanted. Pay these guys!”
Tolbert then proceeded to list the social media handles of Olsen, Davis and Pro Bowl guard Trai Turner, who is entering the final year of his rookie deal.
A tweet posted by Davis’ wife, Kelly, a month ago and unearthed Monday by former Panthers beat writer Darin Gantt, now with Pro Football Talk, seemed to suggest Gettleman was not thrilled with the idea of extending his 34-year-old linebacker, who has overcome three ACL surgeries and played Super Bowl 50 with a broken arm.
Kelly Davis’ tweet, which Gantt says was quickly taken down, read: “Loyalty means NOTHING nowadays but I love a person who knows their worth! #BigOlFacts #KnowYourWorth #NotShockedAtAll #ItsRumbleTime.”
Gettleman, who was semi-retired with the Giants when Richardson hired him, would spend hours holed up in his office watching film of players. He had a keen eye for talent, and oversaw the most successful three-year stretch in Panthers history.
He was not as adept when dealing with players in human – not celluloid – form. The contentious exits of Smith and Williams were written off as the shedding of salaries and malcontents, but the decision to rescind Norman’s franchise tag was Gettleman’s biggest blunder.
When Norman went public during his contract negotiations, it was in keeping with Norman’s outspoken personality.
But when an NFL Man of the Year winner and NFL Man of the Year finalist start griping about their contracts, something or someone’s got to give.
That someone was Gettleman, who did not return phone and text messages left Monday.
A team source said the Panthers likely will hire an interim GM rather than rush into a hire seven weeks before the season starts.
The Panthers have a couple of internal candidates in Don Gregory and Mark Koncz, as well as a certain former Panthers GM still living in Charlotte. Hurney, who remains well liked by Richardson and throughout the organization, could be a solid place-holder for a franchise that needs some stability.
In the past seven months, the Panthers have lost their defensive coordinator, team president, assistant general manager and now Gettleman.
Assistant GM Brandon Beane would have been the ideal successor to Gettleman if this decision had been made three months ago. Beane’s easygoing demeanor made him an effective go-between among the front office, coaching staff and locker room.
Unfortunately, Beane is now working and living in Buffalo.
Former Panthers scouts Trent Kirchner (Seattle) and Ryan Cowden (Tennessee) are both obvious candidates for the permanent position, and Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio is viewed an up-and-coming GM candidate.
Whomever lands the job will have to decide whether to keep head coach Ron Rivera, who was retained by Richardson less than a week before Gettleman was hired in January 2013.
Gettleman and Rivera directed an unprecedented run of three consecutive NFC South titles and a Super Bowl berth.
Things began unraveling last spring when Norman was cut loose, forcing Rivera to try to win with two rookie cornerbacks. Things got worse as Cam Newton suffered through a season-long post-Super Bowl hangover and the lack of depth along the offensive line was exposed with injuries to Ryan Kalil and Michael Oher.
The theme throughout the offseason in terms of the Panthers’ offense has been one of growth and evolution.
Gettleman drafted Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel in the first two rounds to give Newton two new weapons. But it was Gettleman’s dealings with two veteran players that might have been his undoing.