If Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman cut defensive back Charles Godfrey this week in part to send a message to an underachieving secondary and defense that no one’s job is safe, consider it delivered.
Players used words like “shocking” and “surprising” Wednesday in discussing the release of Godfrey, a seventh-year veteran who’d played his entire career with the Panthers.
“It’s kind of a wakeup. You’re re-introduced to the fact that this is a business,” free safety Thomas DeCoud said. “It’s kind of what we signed up for. It comes with the territory. But it doesn’t make it any easier.”
A number of factors conspired against Godfrey, who was coming off Achilles surgery that ended his 2013 season after only two games.
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The arrival of DeCoud and strong safety Roman Harper via free agency convinced coaches and the front office to move Godfrey to cornerback, a position he hadn’t played since college. The Panthers put Godfrey at nickel corner, where he lined up against slot receivers quicker and shiftier than he was post-surgery.
Godfrey was a good sport about it, even agreeing to a $4 million pay cut during the offseason. That is why a number of players were sympathetic about seeing Godfrey go.
“He was kind of out of position. I think we all knew that,” cornerback Josh Norman said. “But at the same time, it’s one of those things where it’s the nature of the business. It’s the nature of the beast. It sucks when that happens. You’ve got to find a way to bounce back from it, which I know Godfrey will.
“He’s a safety, man. He can play it. He started in this league for how many years? That’s hard to do.”
Godfrey played in 82 games, with 75 starts, after the Panthers took him in the third round in 2008. He never went to a Pro Bowl and had only one season where he finished with more than two interceptions.
But he was a serviceable player who was stripped of his explosiveness when his Achilles snapped near the end of that Week 2 loss in Buffalo last year.
It’s hard not to compare Godfrey’s situation with that of former middle linebacker Jon Beason, another good defensive player who lost a step following Achilles surgery. Like Godfrey, Beason tried a different position (outside linebacker) before the Panthers shipped him to New York last year in a trade with the Giants.
A week after Beason was dealt, and following a disheartening loss to Arizona, Steve Smith gathered his teammates for a players-only meeting and told them if they didn’t start playing better, others would be following Beason out the door.
Whether it was Smith’s speech, Ron Rivera’s transformation into Riverboat Ron, or the dominant play of a defense that finished the season ranked No. 2, the Panthers rattled off eight wins in a row and went on to post a 12-4 record and earn the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2008.
Rivera said the Panthers moved on from Godfrey to give a couple younger players more opportunities. James Dockery, who wasn’t on the team three weeks ago, will start at nickel Sunday against defending Super Bowl-champion Seattle.
But Rivera didn’t back away from a question about whether the move was a shot across the bow of a struggling secondary.
“Any time moves are made and different things you do getting players’ attention, that’s always a positive,” Rivera said. “This business really is about production and it’s tough sometimes for whatever the reason. But the unintended consequences sometimes can be valuable.”
The Panthers will eat $3 million the next two years in dead money they owed Godfrey, who likely will get another shot at safety with someone else.
The release of Godfrey could end up being an empty move if Harper, cornerback Antoine Cason and the Greg Hardy-less defensive line continue to struggle. Or maybe Dockery or Bené Benwikere will flourish at nickel, Charles Johnson will go on a sack streak and the Panthers will get on a little roll like last season.
Either way, everyone should consider themselves warned.
“With a guy of his stature who’s been here for as long as he had, and all of a sudden you wake up and he’s not here, it’s definitely got to be a shock. It’s shocking to me,” Harper said. “But it’s a job. We’ve got to take it seriously and understand that nobody’s job is safe from top to bottom.
“They’ll always fire you before you get them fired. That’s just what I’ve always been taught.”