Scott Fowler

Massive contract for OT Matt Kalil will make or break Panthers’ GM Dave Gettleman

One thing I have in common with Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman is this: We both love Honda Odyssey vans.

Laugh all you want, but they are as practical as a vehicle can get. Gettleman makes enough to drive anything, but most mornings at Bank of America Stadium over the past three years he has pulled his Odyssey into a parking lot full of sleek sports cars. I like the vans so much that at one point I owned two of them.

The Honda vans are also pretty expensive, which brings me to Matt Kalil and the concept of sticker shock. Kalil, the Panthers’ new left tackle and the younger brother of Carolina center Ryan Kalil, agreed to a five-year, $55.5-million contract with Carolina, with $25 million of it guaranteed. It is the richest contract in free-agent history that Carolina has ever given to anyone who was not already a Panther and prompted elder brother Ryan to tweet a hilarious reference to the Will Ferrell movie “Step Brothers.”

When I first heard about the contract, I thought of what Gettleman said in Indianapolis recently at the NFL scouting combine when he was asked about his philosophy in spending free-agent dollars.

“I think it’s more if the guy’s worth it,” Gettleman said. “If you go car shopping, what car is worth the money? What are my needs, what do I want and what am I going to spend? If I want a Honda Odyssey van, that’s what I’m getting and I’m going to buy it.”

So Gettleman determined Kalil was his Honda Odyssey. And on Thursday, Gettleman took the sort of massive free-agent monetary leap that he has routinely avoided since becoming Carolina’s general manager.

I have campaigned for Kalil several times in this space and I believe this move will ultimately work out, but it’s an undeniable gamble and it also cost more money than I thought it would. Gettleman paid Kalil but wouldn’t pay Josh Norman, and that’s a debatable set of decisions for sure.

Panthers fans who enjoy fretting now have something new to wring their hands about.

Their usual question in early March is: “Why aren’t the Panthers spending any real money on free agents?” Now they get to ask the opposite: “Why did the Panthers spend so much on one free agent?”

A career-defining move

This move will be one of the defining contracts of Gettleman’s career, for better or for worse. It is the sort of “all-in” bet that will make or break an offense, because Kalil will be entrusted with protecting quarterback Cam Newton’s blind side.

In terms of sheer dollars, this was similar to the sort of bet Dom Capers made on defensive tackle Sean Gilbert in 1998, and that one panned out so poorly it was part of the reason that Capers lost his head-coaching job less than a year later. The difference is that the Panthers didn’t have to give up two No. 1 picks to get Kalil. If he doesn’t work out, the only real lost opportunity is what else Carolina could have bought for $55.5 million.

Kalil is only 27, was the No. 4 overall pick of the 2012 draft and is supposed to be totally healthy. He also has not always been as dominating a player as you would think the No. 4 overall pick in any draft should be and has given up a bunch of sacks. That’s why this signing has been greeted with mixed to negative reviews by many NFL observers, most singing to the same refrain of “Is Kalil really worth all of that?”

Hey, it’s less than Zeitler got

That’s impossible to say right now. Kalil will make less money than the Cleveland Browns paid Kevin Zeitler, and Zeitler is an offensive guard who plays a less significant position on the field.

If Kalil keeps Newton clean and the Panthers offense looks a lot more like it did in 2015, then it’s a good deal. If Kalil re-injures the same hip that made him miss 14 games in 2016, or if he allows a bunch of sacks, or if any number of other things go wrong, it is a bad deal.

But whatever happens, it is now a “legacy” deal for Gettleman. He hopes Kalil will be reliable and built for the long haul, just like a trusty minivan.

One way or another, though, what comes next for both Gettleman and Kalil will be an odyssey.