Over the last several weeks we’ve looked back on Scott Fitterer’s second year as the Carolina Panthers general manager and assessed his performance in salary cap management (here), free agent signings (here), the 2022 draft (here), and player trades (here). It’s now time to give Fitterer his final report card for his sophomore season.
A “C” grade reflects meeting reasonable expectations for a GM, so anything higher than a “C” means Fitterer exceeded expectations, while any grade below a “C” means he fell short.
As you’ll see at the end of this article, Fitterer’s final grade for 2022 is a B-minus, which is quite good when considering a “C” means he fully met the expectations of a capable GM. Overall, it was a solid second season for the Panthers general manager. Here’s why:
Salary cap management: B
In 2022 Scott Fitterer freed up about $30 million in cap space by smartly restructuring contracts for Taylor Moton (+$11.2M), Robbie Anderson ($5.9M), Christian McCaffrey ($5.5M), Shaq Thompson (+$5M), and a couple of other minor moves. These transactions only delay the date the cap hits ultimately come due, but they provided a lot of flexibility last year.
That cap space was largely allocated to re-signing current players to contract extensions. Fitterer once again made mostly good moves on this front.
The extensions for DJ Moore, and Frankie Luvu were home runs while Marquis Haynes’s low-cost contract represents great value. Donte Jackson’s 3-year, $35.1 million extension with nearly $17 million guaranteed was a calculated risk that may or may not pay off as D-Jax struggles with injuries and inconsistent play. Ian Thomas’s 3-year, $17 million deal is as puzzling today as the day the contract was signed.
Free agent signings: B
Scott Fitterer knocked it out of the park with his offensive free agents with guard Austin Corbett (3-years, $26.3M), center Bradley Bozeman (1-year, $2.8M), and running back D’Onta Foreman (1-year, $2M). Hopefully both Bozeman and Foreman can be brought back in 2023 on reasonable deals.
Defensively, safety Xavier Woods (3-year, $15M) and linebacker Damien Wilson (2-years, $6.9M) were signed on solid multi-year deals. Linebacker Cory Littleton (1-year, $2.6M) was a really good signing that I wish would have been a multi-year deal instead of just for 2022. Defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis (1-year, $5.9M) was a ho-hum one-year rental. Punter Johnny Hekker (3-year, $7.6) was a great signing that should pay dividends through 2024.
2022 NFL draft: C
The Panthers 2022 draft class was a yawner outside of first round pick Ikem Ekwonu. Scott Fitterer went into the draft with one hand tied behind his back after making a host of poor trades in 2021 that sent out 2022 draft assets. This included giving up 2022 second and fourth round picks for quarterback Sam Darnold, swapping a 2022 third round pick for CJ Henderson and a fifth round pick, and flipping a 2022 sixth round pick for defensive end Darryl Johnson. (Note: Last year I gave Fitterer a “D” grade for these 2021 trades).
Ekwonu looks like a home run as the long-term answer at left tackle. Third round quarterback Matt Corral is still a huge question mark after missing his entire rookie season. But if Corral defies the odds as a third round pick and becomes a good starting quarterback, this would change the franchise’s entire trajectory. Let’s not give up on him just yet.
Linebacker Brandon Smith (fourth round), defensive end Amaro Barno (sixth round), and guard Cade Mays (sixth round) were primarily special teams contributors, which is to be expected given where they were drafted. Seventh round cornerback Kalon Barnes was cut before the regular season and ended the year on the Minnesota Vikings active roster, which seems like a miss for the Panthers.
Player trades: B
Flipping a fifth round pick to take a chance on a high-risk, high-reward player like quarterback Baker Mayfield was smart, even though it didn’t work out in the end. Getting four picks for Christian McCaffrey, including valuable second and third round picks in 2023, was better than expected given the limited market Fitterer was working with.
Landing wide receiver Laviska Shenault for a sixth and seventh round pick was good value given his contributions and upside. Turning Robbie Anderson and Dennis Daley into three Day 3 picks was outright highway robbery!
Most importantly, in 2022 Scott Fitterer didn’t part with any future draft picks in the first four rounds. Trading away Day 1 and Day 2 picks as a rebuilding franchise can significantly hamper those rebuilding efforts, and last year Fitterer kept his powder dry.
Scott Fitterer’s Year 2 final grade: B-
It was a solid second season for Scott Fitterer in leading the Carolina Panthers. Despite the Panthers instability at quarterback and firing head coach Matt Rhule, the team won five of its last eight games and looked generally competent. Last year Scott Fitterer bolstered the offensive line for the next couple of years, a unit that had held the Panthers back in previous seasons.
Carolina has eight picks in the 2023 draft, including two picks in both the second and fourth rounds. Fitterer has locked up most of the Panthers best players on multi-year deals and shouldn’t have to spend much money in the offseason to retain Carolina’s 2023 free agents. Throw in the seemingly solid hire of new head coach Frank Reich and his great group of coordinators and assistants, and the Panthers have reasons for optimism about the team’s trajectory.
In 2022 Scott Fitterer made some effective moves to solidify the Panthers foundation even further. Now all he needs to build the mansion is to finally find a franchise quarterback.