I have always been an avid Gettleman defender. I was quick to jump to his defense whenever things started seeming gloomy, and helped try to show people why things were handled the way they were. The DG era has come to a shocking hault, and I am sure we will learn more details in the future, but for now we can only look at the things he did for evidence of why this happened.
2013 and 2014
Obviously, 2013 was always going to be a trial run. New GM, new regime, new methods. It was clear that while Marty Hurney hit home runs in a few areas, he hamstringed the franchise in others. The Panthers were in cap hell, and therefore guys just had to go. Captain Munnerlyn, Brandon LaFell, and many others were allowed to walk because really, how much could Carolina really offer? Instead of big spending and trying to patch holes long term with what little cap flexibility they had, Gettleman decided to simply bandage the wounds. 1 year deals, cheap veterans, cast offs, unknowns. Drayton Florence and Quintin Mikell played their last seasons as Panthers while guys like Ted Ginn and Mike Mitchell were career "busts" being given a chance. Dave also got lucky in the draft, as the Panthers biggest need (defensive tackle) fell into their laps twice in a row.
What resulted was a dream season for that team. The core pieces carried it, but they didn’t have a whole lot of injuries, Cam’s defense was finally supporting him. The perfect storm to accentuate a GM on the rise. The problem was, all the issues that haunted the team followed them into the following season. They couldn’t afford to retain guys like Ted Ginn or Mike Mitchell, the veteran mercenaries were already on their last legs the year prior, and Gettleman lacked true cap flexibility. And at that time, the organization was in a period of transition to "Cam’s team". Jordan Gross, coming off one of his best seasons, was asked to take a pay cut. Steve Smith was let go because of his dissention from the new agenda. We saw yet another small haul in free agency.
In 2014, we got to see what that approach looks like on the flip side, as the issues dogged the team. Dave Gettleman’s draft barely plugged the holes, though he did manage to find two Pro Bowl caliber guards. The Panthers limped into the playoffs due to a division that couldn’t get out of its own way, which further hamstrung the team when they beat up an even worse off Cardinals team and got stopped in Seattle. The one thing that helped create a strong young group got hurt in the NFL Draft, having Carolina pick at the back of most rounds. A tale of two seasons, if you will. The stop gap approach at it’s best and worst.
The Panthers finally had a bit more flexibility, though they once again dropped another long time Panther unceremoniously, DeAngelo Williams. In free agency, Gettleman was a bit more active but still his same conservative self. Michael Oher, coming off his worst season in the league as THE next left tackle. Taking Ted Ginn back for cheap (admittedly he didn’t do anything in Arizona to merit the money he got from them). Signing Kurt Coleman to a small deal to "compete". Charles Tillman on his last contract, among others. The Panthers didn’t push the needle much, but once again Gettleman hit some home runs for cheap. He also got extensions done for the big names, like Luke Kuechly and Cam Newton. And finally, for a team with a lot less turnover than previous years, they rallied and ran through the NFC South, creating a winning precedent for the organization. Having pre-Gettleman regime players break out like Josh Norman and Thomas Davis certainly helped as well.
Once again, Gettleman was lauded for his conservative, hard bargain driving method. And why wouldn’t he be? Ultimately, the NFL is about being successful and winning. The players, coaches, and even executives are all essentially graded on the win loss column. "What have you done for me lately", as it is called.
Now the precedent was set, and the training wheels were off. Three straight NFC South titles, three straight playoff appearances. Now you just had to let the man go. He knew what he was doing right?
The 2016 offseason was more so about keeping the magic together. Extend the big timers, add some collateral talent. But ol’ Dave Gettleman did it again, this time in shocking fashion rescinding the franchise tag on Norman. He addressed this need mostly through the draft, adding three corners and drafting a defensive tackle to try and further improve the pass rush. Still no big time offensive tackle signings, still need for weapons on offense, still needs in the secondary and at defensive end. All the expensive options. But hey, these guys just played in the Super Bowl right? That’s what I told myself over and over prior to the year.
And in a sequel to a Tale of Two seasons, the offense couldn’t function because their shallowest position on the offensive line had a catastrophic injury, followed by many more. The defense struggled to return to form because, you know, two rookie corners, some has beens, and some never was-es. Cam Newton got beat up all season and the Panthers never seemed to find that magic again.
That’s the beauty of the NFL. Every team has its "method", sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. But here we have the case study of the absolute best and absolute worst of Gettleman’s modus operandi.