INDIANAPOLIS — New Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman celebrated his 62nd birthday Thursday at the scouting combine.
After attending the combine for a quarter-century in a scouting capacity, Gettleman is here for the first time as a GM. And even staring at a daunting salary-cap situation, Gettleman couldn’t wipe the smile off his face.
“That’s what’s got me so excited right now. It was a long time coming and I feel like I’m ready,” Gettleman said. “Maybe that’s why I feel so comfortable up here.”
In his first appearance in front of the league-wide media, Gettleman was relaxed and friendly at the podium, if not all that revealing about the Panthers’ plans for free agency and the draft.
Having spent the past month evaluating the roster, Gettleman said the Panthers have the talent to compete in the NFC South. But the most pressing order of business is getting under the cap by the start of the league year.
The Panthers are about $10 million over the projected $122 million cap.
“The first thing we have to do is make March 12 and get there,” Gettleman said. “There’s obviously going to have to be some work done. It’s no secret. The bottom line is everybody knows we’re over the cap and we’ve got to get there.”
Gettleman would not say how he plans to get there, declining comment when asked whether veteran cornerback Chris Gamble would be a cap casualty. Cutting Gamble would create $7.9 million in cap space.
Defensive tackle Ron Edwards also is expected to be released, freeing up $2.5 million in cap money.
Gettleman said he needs to think long term “so we’re not standing here talking about” cap problems the next few years.
“With (the cap) being as flat as it’s been the last couple years, and people are talking it’s going to be that way for a couple more years, you’ve got to try to climb out of the hole,” Gettleman said. “And the only way you’re going to do that is if you’re thoughtful and you’ve got to think for the next three years.”
Despite the cap challenges, Gettleman believes the Panthers can contend this season.
“I don’t see why not. Nobody’s out of it in this league. Every year there’s a team that comes out of (nowhere),” Gettleman said. “There wasn’t anybody on the face of the earth that thought Indianapolis would be going to the playoffs. We’re all 0-0 and everybody’s in play.”
Gettleman believes the Panthers have a strong nucleus, pointing to quarterback Cam Newton, receivers Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell, running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, tight end Greg Olsen, center Ryan Kalil, defensive ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy, linebacker Luke Kuechly and safety Charles Godfrey.
Gettleman said veteran left tackle Jordan Gross “is still a player,” but gave a bit of a mixed message when asked whether the Panthers could keep both Williams and Stewart.
“Can we keep both of them? Again, decisions have to be made,” Gettleman said. “I don’t see why not.”
Gettleman said the Panthers have reached out to a few of their unrestricted free agents, and mentioned defensive tackle Dwan Edwards as someone they would like to re-sign.
With Ron Edwards a potential cap cut, Panthers coach Ron Rivera said he and Gettleman have discussed bringing Dwan Edwards back.
“If that happens, that would be great,” Rivera said. “I would love to have him back.”
Rivera said he’s enjoyed working with Gettleman, who had never met Rivera before coming to Charlotte. Gettleman said the two share a similar philosophy in terms of shaping a roster.
“His philosophy and mine are very similar in terms of the types of players we need,” he said. “You need football players. You need intelligent guys. You need instinctive guys. You need all that and obviously players to fit the scheme.”
Gettleman said his first couple of weeks after succeeding Marty Hurney were hectic, with “people lined up outside your door.” Gettleman is still living in a Charlotte hotel, but growing more comfortable.
In front of a group of reporters in the media room at Lucas Oil Stadium on Thursday, Gettleman looked like he was enjoying his birthday.