Five things we learned from Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman’s media availability Wednesday at the combine:
1. The Panthers are drafting a running back.
When I asked Gettleman – given that Jonathan Stewart is in a contract year and Mike Tolbert is no longer on the roster – whether he planned to draft a back, he didn’t flinch.
“That’s a fair statement,” Gettleman said.
He didn’t say what round that would be, but signs seem to point to the first.
It’s a good running-back draft (Gettleman listed RB, CB, S and DE as the deepest position groups) and the Panthers need another playmaker in the backfield as they look to evolve their offense and limit the hits quarterback Cam Newton takes.
Plus, Gettleman did not seem unhappy when asked about 240-pound running backs. (LSU’s Leonard Fournette, a favorite at No. 8 for the Panthers in a lot of mock drafts, weighed in at 240 on Wednesday.)
2. The Panthers have a Plan B for the Michael Oher situation.
The uncertainty surrounding Oher’s condition stretched into a sixth month when Gettleman said the left tackle remains in the concussion protocol.
Gettleman said he’d appear to have “brain damage” – not the best choice of words – if he said there weren’t concerns about Oher’s future. Compounding matters for the Panthers is the fact that right tackle Mike Remmers will be an unrestricted free agent next week.
Later, off the podium, Gettleman was asked about the plethora of experienced tackles available through free agency.
The list includes Andrew Whitworth, Russell Okung, Ryan Clady and Matt Kalil, for whom I’ve been banging the drum for the past two months.
“It’s kind of crazy, it really is,” Gettleman said. “It’s unusual.”
Pressed on whether the Panthers had to sign one of those guys based on Oher’s situation, Gettleman added: “I’m not going to lie: You’ve got to entertain it, of course.”
3. There will not be a repeat of the Josh Norman tag debacle.
Franchise tags have not been kind to Gettleman (see Hardy, Greg, and Norman, Josh).
But Gettleman wasn’t afraid to use the tag again this year on defensive tackle Kawann Short, who indicated in January he would sign the tag and guarantee the estimated $13.5 million salary for 2017.
The Panthers have until July to reach a long-term agreement with Short, and Gettleman said the early signs are encouraging.
“So far the communication is open and it’s been very amicable,” Gettleman said. “So we’ll see.”
One thing Gettleman was more definitive about: He’s not going to be rescinding another tag, as he did with Norman, anytime soon.
“It was very unusual,” he said, “and it ain’t happening again.”
4. The Panthers want a couple of their veterans back.
In addition to tagging Short, Gettleman further solidified the defensive line this week by re-signing defensive ends Mario Addison and Wes Horton. But Gettleman said the Panthers have at least two other pending free agents they want back – defensive end Charles Johnson and wide receiver Ted Ginn.
On a wide receiver group that includes the big-bodied Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess, Ginn is the resident burner – even at 31 (and soon to be 32).
“We want him back,” Gettleman said. “It’s just a matter of getting there.”
Gettleman later said the same of Johnson. Gettleman let Johnson explore the market last year after the Panthers cut him before bringing him back on a team-friendly deal.
Expect the same approach with both players this year.
5. The Panthers tried to sign Julius Peppers in 2014.
The Panthers quietly negotiated with the Panthers great three years ago before Peppers signed with Green Bay. And there seems to be mutual interest again (although the Panthers can’t confirm that because that would be tampering).
Asked how close the Panthers came to landing him in ’14, Gettleman laughed and said: “I’ve never met Julius, I don’t know. But it sounded like it had a reasonable shot. And then at the last minute, poof, he went to Green Bay.”
Peppers turned 37 in January and reportedly has interest in ending his career where it started.
Peppers was a Pro Bowler in 2015 and has remained productive as he’s gotten older. He’s averaged nearly nine sacks a year since he turned 30.
Signing both Johnson and Peppers seems excessive, although Gettleman has said before teams can never have too many pass-rushers.