Panthers CB Captain Munnerlyn on smoothing things over with Devin Funchess
Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman says he doesn’t believe there are limited windows in which teams can make a run at championships.
But Panthers owner Jerry Richardson has a window.
So does linebacker Thomas Davis, who turns 34 this month and is heading into the final year of his contract.
Same goes for Julius Peppers, the 37-year-old prodigal son who signed a one-year deal to take another crack at winning a Super Bowl ring with the team that drafted him No. 2 overall 15 years ago.
The events of the past 48 hours suggest Gettleman might be rethinking his position on this whole window business.
Gettleman, no youngster himself at 66, spent $55.5 million to secure the left tackle position with Matt Kalil after watching his franchise quarterback get knocked around for much of 2016.
And while Cam Newton had a season to forget in 2016, protecting Newton and surrounding him with playmakers has to be a goal of Gettleman’s every year.
He brought back Peppers in a move that has energized the fan base, and filled another spot with a familiar face by giving nickel back Captain Munnerlyn a four-year deal worth $17 million, including $8 million guaranteed.
Munnerlyn, who spent the past three years with the Vikings, said the reason he chose Carolina over Minnesota – besides the weather and the fact that he lives in Charlotte – was the Panthers’ aggressive approach to free agency.
“I saw the moves that they was doing in free agency and it was like, ‘OK, they’re trying to get back to the Super Bowl,’” Munnerlyn said Saturday after signing his contract.
Munnerlyn has been on both sides of the negotiating spectrum with Gettleman, who didn’t want to ante up to keep Munnerlyn and safety Mike Mitchell (among others) after the Panthers’ 12-4 season of 2013.
In fairness, Gettleman didn’t have as much salary cap space to work with back then.
But after three consecutive playoff years and a berth in Super Bowl 50, the Panthers’ 6-10 finish last season seems to have added a sense of urgency to how the front office is conducting business.
“They’re trying to go and get it now. If you look at the roster and look at some of the moves they made, they’re trying to do it now,” Munnerlyn said. “They’re not trying to wait, sit back and let’s rebuild again, we’ve got to reload. No. We’re going out there, we’re firing out now.”
Checking a box
Gettleman uses free agency to plug roster holes so he can go with the best-player-available approach in the draft. He had to abandon that strategy in last year’s draft, when he was forced to draft three cornerbacks after rescinding Josh Norman’s franchise tag.
Those rookie corners were thrown into the fray without the benefit of having a veteran in their meeting room. And although James Bradberry and Daryl Worley improved as the year went along, the secondary lacked a proven nickel back to cover those wide swaths of field where the shifty slots roam.
Captain Munnerlyn also is stoked about lining up on a defense that includes Julius Peppers, defensive end Charles Johnson and linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, the latter three of whom put in a good word for him with management, he says.
Enter Munnerlyn, who checks the nickel box for Gettleman and, Gettleman hopes, the mentor role as well.
Munnerlyn didn’t exactly have a warm-and-fuzzy relationship with Norman. That likely had as much to do with Norman’s headstrong personality as the fact that Munnerlyn might have been more territorial early in his career.
But Munnerlyn says he’s looking forward to working with the young corners in much the way veteran corner Terence Newman took him under his wing in Minnesota.
Munnerlyn also is stoked about lining up on a defense that includes Peppers, defensive end Charles Johnson and linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, the latter three of whom put in a good word for him with management, Munnerlyn says.
“That was a big part, too, to come back and play with these guys and finish what we started,” Munnerlyn said. “Those guys are great players.”
Munnerlyn, 28, was a rookie in 2009 during the final year of Peppers’ first Panthers’ stint. Munnerlyn saw Peppers twice a year the past three seasons, when both were in the NFC North, and eyeballed him again Saturday when both were at Bank of America Stadium.
“He’s still got a lot left in him,” Munnerlyn said. “He still looks young. He’s still ready to roll.”
Super Bowl run
So is Munnerlyn, who experienced firsthand what a Super Bowl run feels like in Charlotte – albeit from the suite level at BoA. He was in Johnson’s luxury box 14 months ago when the Panthers routed Arizona in the NFC title game.
He couldn’t help but feel a bit wistful.
“I was rooting for them, hoping they’d pull it out and get the Super Bowl win,” he said. “It was big for the city.”
Now Munnerlyn’s back with the team in the city he never really left. He’s a little older, with a wife and three kids.
And while his window isn’t as small as Peppers’ or Davis’, Munnerlyn feels like the time is now for the Panthers to make a long playoff run. Super Bowl LII is in another city Munnerlyn knows well.
“It’s in Minnesota,” he said, smiling. “Yeah, I know that.”