Panthers Draft Shows Long-Term Vision

Once again, an NFL Draft is in the books and it doesn't take too long for the "grades" to come in. Carolina often gets low marks from most pundits year in and year out for not addressing enough needs or something. These same guys say you can't grade a draft class for at least several years. Carolina Panthers GM David Gettleman has his own ideas.

Many pundits gave low grades at the time to the draft where we got both Luke Kuechly and Josh Norman, mind you.

This year, the Panthers drafted one of the top defensive tackles in the deepest draft for DTs in memory. In fact, the team probably could have wound up with a guy almost as good as Butler in the 3rd or 4th rounds. There's a glut, which doesn't bode well for running teams like Carolina, but at least the team got theirs too.

The reasons are multiple and all good ones I won't get too deeply into other than to say it's all part of a multi-season, long-term approach to general managing. With Kawann Short likely signing for somewhere north of $15 million a year and Josh Norman's departure, the financial situation is certainly balanced in favor of the front seven. Kuechly signed his deal last year and Thomas Davis will stay for a couple of years before he hangs 'em up for good. 

One could argue over the wisdom of taking three cornerbacks in the draft and the merits and deficiencies of each one individually, but I won't here. They're two big zone corners and a nickelback that seem to bee good system fits. Beyond Bene' Benwikere, who broke his leg and missed most of last season, and elder statesman Peanut Tillman (if he doesn't retire still), the team lacks starting-caliber corners with Norman gone. 

Mr. Gettleman isn't done yet, having signed more than one high-profile undrafted free agent already. The man is stocking up the secondary with good young talent that should pay big dividends by the end of the season when the playoffs come.

By finishing the draft in the seventh round with a tight end, Gettleman threw a little more than a bone at the offense, at least. Competition for the TE2 spot could oust Ed Dickson, I think. 

I keep saying you have to remember the money involved in any given draft pick, veteran free agency, and "need" positions being addressed. I think they all go into the equation while the scouting department gives Gettleman the reports on the athletic side. Ron Rivera gives him input on the need side, but DG is pretty aware of that situation first-hand. Ron gives him progress reports or however they have it worked out personally. Certainly, it can be seen that long-term financial stability and flexibility as a result are what drives many decisions any GM has to make.

Butler was either precisely Gettleman's thirtieth-rated player (unlikely), or he was the BPA that could have an impact on the team. While he's an incredible talent, the idea is that he's insurance against Star's foot and contract demands. Norman's departure signals to everyone that if you're asking too much, you'll take a hike.

If Star is signed, then the team has terrific depth at the position and a good balance sheet even when you account for Kawann's big looming payday. Butler plays at least four seasons under a rookie deal. Paul Soliai should help tutor the rookie.

Two new corners gives the team some much-needed help on the back end of the defense and the one thing that all three drafted guys have in common is their affinity for the football. It all plays right into what Ron and Defensive Cordinator Sean McDermott want to do.

As for the offense, a seventh-round tight end is a nice gesture, but the draft isn't the only pipeline Gettleman has. Don't forget the UFAs from this season I mentioned and all the whispers about Stephen Hill. Daryl WIlliams from last year's middle rounds should take Mike Remmers' job if he can stay healthy for his sophomore season.

With such a premium being placed on good left tackles, it appears these days that in order to acquire one, you'll either have to trade for a veteran, pay through the nose for a veteran free agent, or get lucky at #13 and have the draft's best talent, Jeremy Tunsil, fall to you. 

Either that, or mortgage a couple of drafts to move from the bottom of the first round into the top ten. DG will never go that route. Or, have a lot of money handy when an established LT hits the market out of the blue for some crazy reason. DG's prepared for the latter with a healthy $20 million or so remaining cap space if Kawann signs today for around $15 million per season.

I think Gettleman's vision and strategy are pretty clear in that he's taking the long-term approach to things. The so-called "need" areas are simply areas he hasn't been able to adequately address but he's not about break the bank for a short-term solution, either. The fans and pundits play checkers with their "mock drafts" that never turn out accurate because Gettleman is playing a different game -- chess.


Follow me on Twitter @Ken_Dye