San Francisco 49ers's general manager Trent Baalke made one of the boldest roster moves in recent memory on Monday, as the organization traded wide receiver A.J. Jenkins to the Kansas City Chiefs for Jon Baldwin. It wasn't bold because it put the franchise at risk, but because it was an acknowledgement of a mistake -- something we don't often see out of an NFL general manager. In one week Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman will need to make a decision of his own, and it's time to channel his inner Trent Baalke.
The move is simple, the Panthers need to cut Domenik Hixon. It's not because he's a bad receiver, but because he can't stay healthy. A constant treadmill of "will he, or wont he" has led to a third preseason game missed, and no indications he's right for this team or whether he meshes with Cam Newton.
In order to make the move Gettleman needs to acknowledge that he rolled the dice on a player he knows well. He chose to take the oft-injured receiver, bumps and all, hoping he could find healthier legs in Charlotte. The move didn't work out, but the Panthers didn't make any long-term commitment to Hixon, making it a fairly routine decision.
A few months back this didn't seem possible. The Panthers were languishing with one of the worst receiving corps in the NFL, as they threw darts hoping guys like Ted Ginn and Hixon would get them through the season. Gettleman said in his first press conference that "sometimes the answer is on the roster," and magically Armanti Edwards had his light bulb moment, while David Gettis healed -- playing like he did in 2010.
Make no mistake, these two factors were blind luck. There was no predicting these two players would be able to contribute. So sharp was the rise in Edwards' play that it couldn't have been foreseen, while a re-committed Gettis understood he was on his last chance in the NFL, and showed it in two straight preseason games.
Up to this point conventional wisdom has been to predict Hixon sneaking onto the back end of the depth chart, supplanting either Joe Adams or Kealoha Pilares -- but there's no point in cutting either. Adams has shown enough flashes as a punt returner that it would be foolish to eat the remainder of his rookie contract, while Pilares has evolved into a very good coverage man on special teams, who can be called on to kick return in a pinch.
Gettleman retaining Hixon at this point would be nothing more than blind loyalty to "his guy." The offense is crossing their fingers, hoping Jonathan Stewart will be ready week one, and they can't have another injured offensive player eating up a valuable roster spot. The PUP list is a possibility, but unless he can practice and acclimate to the offense it's a moot point.
The long-standing criticism of former general manager Marty Hurney was his unwavering belief in his guys. They got too much rope, and were awarded with too lavish contracts. Make no mistake, this is on Jerry Richardson too, who often rises about the fray as the public continue to pelt Hurney's name with their rotten tomatoes. If Gettleman really wants to prove this is a new regime, with a new way of looking at players, truly putting the best players on the field, then he needs to be like Trent Baalke -- own the mistake, and move on.