SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Panthers first-year general manager Dave Gettleman didn’t draft quarterback Cam Newton or hire coach Ron Rivera.
And while Gettleman expressed confidence in both Tuesday, he said it’s time to start winning.
The Panthers have gone 13-19 and failed to reach the playoffs in the two seasons after Rivera was hired and former general manager Marty Hurney drafted Newton with the first overall pick in 2011.
Newton has thrown for more yards than any quarterback in NFL history in his first two seasons, but has yet to lead the Panthers to a winning season.
“Cam has had the best two years of any rookie quarterback in NFL history. And everybody talks about the other young (quarterbacks),” Gettleman said at the Panthers’ training camp. “What he’s done has been completely lost in the sauce because of the elephant in the room – the 13-19 record. I’m a big believer in letting nature take its course. Things will happen naturally.”
Gettleman was asked whether Newton was the quarterback to build around.
After a seven-second pause, Gettleman said: “Yes, he is. But now it’s time to win.”
Gettleman doesn’t have to worry about Newton’s future for a while.
Under the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, the Panthers cannot begin renegotiating with Newton until after this season. His four-year, $22 million deal includes a club option for a fifth year, and the Panthers could use the franchise tag on Newton.
“Technically, you have rights to him for six years,” Gettleman said.
Gettleman, 62, the New York Giants’ longtime pro personnel director, said Newton has a high ceiling.
“He’s really physically gifted. He’s gotten better. He keeps improving. What you’re looking for is ascension, and he consistently does it,” Gettleman said. “He’s bright. He lost weight. He works his fanny off. There’s no reason he can’t continue to ascend, and I think he will.”
Rivera’s future is less certain if the Panthers again stumble early and miss the playoffs. He’s in the third year of a four-year contract, and had to wait six days in January before learning he still had a job.
Gettleman said he set no specific expectations for Rivera, other than win.
“My goal was to put them in a position to be successful. … That’s been my goal all along,” Gettleman said. “I’m giving him all my support and he knows it.”
Inheriting a roster that was $16 million over the cap when he was hired last winter, Gettleman acquired no big-name free agents. Instead, he cut cornerback Chris Gamble and linebacker James Anderson and restructured the contracts of seven players.
Gettleman said he was up front with the players he approached about restructuring, and believes they appreciated his directness.
Gettleman currently has the Panthers $13 million below the cap. But there is work to do on future caps.
Several pieces came in the secondary, which lost its best cover cornerback when Gamble was released. While conceding the secondary remains “a work in progress,” Gettleman said the newcomers have talent.
“We brought in guys that have NFL chops. Drayton Florence is a 10-year vet. He knows how to play the game. D.J. Moore, he’s got 10 picks in three years. You look at his participation, you’re saying, ‘Whoa.’ He’s an instinctive football player. He gets his gloves on the ball,” he said. “Mike Mitchell, for him to have the stats that he had in Oakland with that percentage of playing time, I feel good about those guys.”
Gettleman indicated the Panthers were in a holding pattern with two free agents they talked to recently – former Carolina offensive lineman Travelle Wharton and safety Quintin Mikell. Gettleman said he wants to give younger players a look at camp before bringing in a veteran.
Panthers linebacker Chase Blackburn, who was in New York with Gettleman, said Gettleman was always around the facility, chatting up players in the lunch room and getting to know them. Blackburn said he thinks Gettleman’s transition from the scouting side to his first GM job has been smooth.
“Talking to guys, especially the key guys that you have to have a relationship with as a GM, he’s going to demand a lot of things out of us. We understand it’s a business, Blackburn said.
“But he’s also a personal guy. He’s going to talk to you about your family and friends, and how the group in the locker room is doing together. I think he’s got a good grasp of the situation here, and is going to be a good guy for us.”