No one outside of Bank of America Stadium has heard much from Dave Gettleman lately.
The Carolina Panthers’ new general manager has been holed up in film and meeting rooms, watching tape and getting familiar with the team’s roster.
Don’t expect to hear much from Gettleman at the onset of the NFL’s free agency period next month, either.
Saddled with a restrictive salary cap situation stemming from the Panthers’ post-lockout spending spree two years ago, Gettleman will have to be creative in adding to the team’s roster.
Or more to the point, subtracting from it.
The Panthers are about $15 million over the reported $121.1 million salary cap. Teams must be below the cap by 4 p.m. on March 12, giving Gettleman a month to decide who stays and who goes.
League sources expect Gettleman’s first major move to be the release of veteran cornerback Chris Gamble, which would free up $7.9 million in cap space. After that the decisions get trickier, such as whether to keep both high-priced running backs or part ways with franchise rushing leader DeAngelo Williams?
Linebacker Jon Beason and offensive tackle Jordan Gross, two of the team’s captains, could be asked to restructure their contracts. And a number of other starters could be on their way out as cap victims (see list).
The good news for the Panthers is that the list of their own free agents includes only three starters – defensive tackle Dwan Edwards, cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and safety Sherrod Martin, who ended last season on injured reserve with torn knee ligaments and is not expected to be re-signed.
Gettleman, who was unavailable for comment last week, said at his introductory press conference that he planned to evaluate the roster with an unbiased eye.
“You have to do it unemotionally, you have to do it objectively. And frankly that’s next on my agenda,” Gettleman said at the press conference last month. “I’ve got a working knowledge of the club that’s certainly not enough. When it comes to the cap, the most important thing you have to do is put the proper value on the player. You get into trouble when you overpay.”
That’s the consensus on what the Panthers did in 2011, when they gave huge deals to Williams, Beason, linebacker James Anderson and safety Charles Godfrey, among others. Defensive end Charles Johnson and center Ryan Kalil have played to value of their contracts, although Kalil missed most of last season following foot surgery.
Gettleman, who spent 13 years as the New York Giants’ pro personnel director, agrees with former Panthers general manager Marty Hurney’s philosophy of building through the draft.
But Gettleman didn’t shy away from big-name free agents in New York. The Giants signed wideout Plaxico Burress, linebacker Antonio Pierce, center Shaun O’Hara and defensive tackle Chris Canty while Gettleman ran their pro personnel department.
“Getting in the unrestricted free agent market with big-ticket guys is very dicey. Again, I don’t mean to sound like a jerk, but we had success in New York with the right guys, with the research we did going through the evaluation process,” Gettleman said in January. “We didn’t miss on any big-ticket guys, but it’s dangerous and the ideal thing is exactly what Marty said. You draft, you grow, you use all the avenues to add players to your team.
“You watch the waiver wire, you inquire about trade possibilities, you take guys off the street and snag guys off someone else’s practice squad.”
The Panthers brought in a street free agent last week when they signed defensive tackle Colin Cole, who had been out of football for two years following an ankle injury. Though it was the first free agent signing by Gettleman, it did not necessarily reflect his approach.
With the cap essentially remaining flat, Gettleman said there are bargains to be found in free agency.
“There are good players out there looking for big contracts. And you can’t afford them. No one can afford them. So they take the 1-year deals,” Gettleman said. “We had success with that last year. We had (tight end) Martellus Bennett. We had (offensive tackle) Sean Locklear. There’s gold to be mined down there. You don’t have to spend a ton of cash to get a good football player.”
Good thing. The Panthers don’t have much of it.