The long wait is over...somewhat. The first round of the NFL's Annual Selection Metting AKA the NFL Draft is in the books, and DT Vernon Butler found his way to Charlotte. Although the team already has two outstanding defensive tackles and is the one position (other than linebacker) where the team is set. So why the pick?
Frankly, this was obviously Dave Gettleman's decision alone. If you look at his past, this pick fits exactly with his overall strategy. Gettleman doesn't draft for the coming season; he drafts for multiple coming seasons, always keeping that long-range vision in the forefront.
This draft has the deepest, most talented DT class in recent memory, and some say it's the deepest ever. GMs around the NFL have said that you can get first-round talents in the 3rd or 4th round, and that kids that normally would go on the 5th or 6th will go un-drafted because of the depth. So why did Gettleman use a first-round pick on one?
Well, there are several reasons for that. First of all, it does indeed appear he was likely the highest-rated prospect on Carolina's draft board when their pick came, as Butler was "rated" to go somewhere in the middle of the first round. Late teens at worst.
However, all the OTHER teams know of the DT depth as well, and this likely caused nearly all of them to slide...just like NFL personnel people had been saying. Teams figure they can always come back in a latter round and pick up a good, if not great, prospect there. Gettleman simply went with the best guy.
It really is Gettleman's M.O. to draft like this. Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei are both coming up on contract seasons this year, and the move to release Josh Norman seems to be related to that, in part. With about $38 million in cap space, Gettleman now has room to sign them both.
The caveat is the fact that Gettleman does not overpay market value for his help. Again, look at what Norman signed for in Washington -- $15.5 million per year over five years with $50 million of that guaranteed. That's more guaranteed money than Cam Newton got, I think, though not by a lot. He's a corner who is slower than Patrick Peterson, doesn't return punts like Peterson, and is paid more? No wonder Gettleman let him "graduate."
As for the DT situation, Vernon Butler is there for depth and contract leverage both. He's more of a hybrid between Star and Kawann in that he is more of a nose tackle guy like Star, but is also able to penetrate into the backfield like Short. With the team signing veteran DT Paul Soliai this offseason for rotational depth, the interior D-line was staked before Butler's selection.
It's all about the Benjamins, folks. Gettleman knows that Butler's presence should keep a lid on salary demands from both guys up to a point, just like he did when he selected Kony Ealy during Greg Hardy's contract season. DG knows anything can happen and he does not want to be caught thin on that defensive front-seven. Butler's selection ensures that -- at least in the interior.
Then, there's the matter of Butler's actual talent. He's a big kid who, as I said, brings multiple abilities to the table. In fact, if you look at the scouting report on NFL.com, his comparison is with Muhammed Wilkerson. Wilkerson is athletic enough to play a 3-4 DE or a 4-3 DT, and Butler is similar. Butler could be a guy who plays the 4-3 DE position on goal line/short yardage downs and should contribute immediately.
I know a lot of people wanted to see RB Derrick Henry get chosen, but there's always a chance that Gettleman will pull a similar stunt like he did last year when he traded up high in the second round to nab WR Devin Funchess and target Henry in a similar fashion. The issue this year is that the Panthers really do need multiple bodies in the secondary and sooner rather than later.
Henry might be a "want" instead of the "need" that many of us are thinking, but multiple late-round RB selections just haven't panned out for one reason or another and Jonathan Stewart isn't getting any younger.
The team also needs to upgrade at left tackle, but that may have to come in the form of signing another free agent at the end of the season if one isn't grabbed early in the draft. If that's what Gettleman is looking for, then Derrick Henry won't be a Panther.
It's always a balancing act and even the top teams with the fewest holes usually can't fill them all in a single draft anyway. Gettleman is keeping the accounting in mind with his draft strategy while selecting the best player on the board in his mind.
He hasn't failed the organization yet, so I'm right with him on the Butler selection. I'd still like to see Henry on the team, but we'll find out soon enough.
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