Scott Fowler

Matt Kalil is right guy, Panthers’ Dave Gettleman believes, even if money is ‘crazy’

Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman signed former Minnesota offensive tackle Matt Kalil earlier this month to a lucrative contract that will be one of the defining moments of the GM’s career.
Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman signed former Minnesota offensive tackle Matt Kalil earlier this month to a lucrative contract that will be one of the defining moments of the GM’s career. Getty Images

Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman has staked a lot of his legacy on new offensive tackle Matt Kalil. And even Gettleman – while reiterating that he believed completely in Kalil’s ability to handle the left tackle position for Carolina – admitted Friday that the money Kalil will receive for doing so is hard to fathom.

“Listen, you’re talking to a street kid from Boston, OK?” said Gettleman, whose recent deal with Kalil was for five years and $55.5 million, with $25 million of that guaranteed. It was easily the richest deal the Panthers have ever given to a player who was not already in the organization.

“To think I would sign off on these kinds of deals still blows my mind,” Gettleman continued. “I’ve got to be honest. I’ve still got that blue collar in me. You know, it’s me and my minivan.”

Gettleman famously has pulled up to Bank of America Stadium in an ancient minivan for years, eschewing flashier cars because of the van’s practicality. But he also knows that it is very practical to protect Cam Newton’s blind side, no matter the cost. So with Michael Oher still in the concussion protocol, Carolina gulped hard and signed Kalil, the younger brother of Carolina center Ryan Kalil.

Said Gettleman in explaining the decision Friday, as he answered questions about all of his recent free-agency moves from a gathering of local media members for the first time: “The rule of thumb for me is that if you’re going to spend that kind of money it should be a guy who is entering his prime. ... Matt is 27. ... I watched a ton of tape on that kid. And obviously if you’re going to spend that kind of money on a guy, you’ve got to believe in the talent, you’ve got to believe in the health and you’ve got to believe in the person.

“And even so, it’s still crazy what some of these guys are getting paid. It just boggles my mind. But we did a lot of work on him and I feel really good about it. ... He’s the right guy for us.”

Gettleman has negotiated huge contracts before, although with Carolina they have been primarily lucrative contract extensions to Pro Bowl-caliber players already with the Panthers. Referring to extensions he granted to quarterback Cam Newton, linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis and tight end Greg Olsen, Gettleman said: “Obviously, since I got here (in 2013), we haven’t been in a position to do a deal like that on an outside guy. I mean, Cam doesn’t have to worry about where his next meal is coming from. Neither does Luke. Neither does Greg or TD. So we’ve done those deals, but it’s just been with our guys.”

When he was with the New York Giants, however, Gettleman was part of a big 2005 free-agency period that brought wide receiver Plaxico Burress and linebacker Antonio Pierce to New York for what turned out to be a championship run three seasons later, with Burress catching the winning TD pass to beat New England in the Super Bowl. Gettleman likened this offseason to that one in New York a dozen years ago several times on Friday.

As I’ve written before, the Kalil deal will become one of the defining moments of Gettleman’s career, for better or for worse. Many Minnesota fans weren’t unhappy to see Kalil leave, pointing to the large number of sacks and pressures he allowed. The No. 4 overall pick in the 2012 draft, Kalil also had a hip injury that made him miss almost all of 2016.

Gettleman said knowing Ryan Kalil and the extended Kalil family made it slightly easier to pull the trigger on the deal.

“That’s the cloth he’s made from,” Gettleman said. “It makes it easier. It gives you comfort.”

But you can tell from Gettleman’s body language that he won’t be too comfortable with this expenditure until he sees that it is actually going to work out. And we may not really know that for several years.

Matt Kalil was a huge gamble for the street kid from Boston.

If it works, Kalil may be the final piece that allows Carolina to win the Super Bowl. But if it busts completely, Gettleman may not have a parking spot for his minivan at Bank of America Stadium anymore.