I must say that I wasn't 100% surprised when Carolina Panthers General Manager Dave Gettleman rescinded the franchise tag on cornerback Josh Norman.
I was only 95% surprised.
Now, as a fan, I (and indeed, all of you as well) have to consider what Gettleman's track record is. He has been Carolina's GM for four years (or is it five?) but the point being that he already has earned a rather miserly reputation. A few things stick out:
One, Gettleman has been down this very road before, although in a different form, when DE Greg Hardy's rookie contract was done after four seasons with the team. He was franchised, then played only a game or two before sitting out the rest of the 2014 season in which his legal issues with a drug-fueled girl friend began, ending with Hardy being signed by the Dallas Cowboys.
I bring it up only because Gettleman drafted a replacement for Hardy "just in case" in the form of a second-round draft pick out of Missouri in Kony Ealy.
Ealy's selection served several purposes. For one, as Gettleman and Rivera have both said more than once in the past, "you can never have too many pass rushers." If Hardy had turned out to be ultra-solid both on the field and off, Ealy would have been a quality, developing pass-rusher who would have been the first fresh legs off the bench at the DE spot. Frank Alexander was a total bust in the making by then, so the team needed a guy like Kony Ealy.
As I mentioned, a few months ago Josh Norman's franchise tag was rescinded when it became clear the Panthers weren't going to pay him the $1 million per game + that he ultimately commanded from Dan Snyder & his open-wallet ways in Washington. Snyder has been the single person most responsible for their overall playoff drought in the 21st Century since he can't get out of his own way in overspending on free agents.
However, good for Josh & his ability to extract that money. Gettleman doesn't value a 4.6 corner so highly in the Panthers' defense -- it's the front-seven that sets the tone -- and their idea at the time was "think of what all we could do with that money."
Well, Kawann's time at bat coming fast as he's on-deck. Current thought is that he should command Ndomukong Suh-like money. He's making about $22 million per year in South Florida, and if that's any indication, Gettleman's "value" he places on front-seven defenders will be put up to the test in where he puts the franchise's money...or not.
Frankly, I just don't see him spending that kind of money on a defensive tackle, and with Luke Kuechly being the team's best player (including Cam on offense), and making ~ $12 million per season at the MLB position, it's very difficult to see the team keeping Kawann Short, or any other player aside from QB Cam Newton, for that high a price (not to mention the $60+ million in guaranteed money that Suh makes. Kawann correctly perceives his value as equivalent to that of Suh.
The fact that the Dolphins wildly overpaid Suh, largely due to the Deflatriots' strangle-hold on the AFC East with Tom Brady and BB, only complicates matters. While I can see Short being paid "new contract Norman" rates, I am simply having a lot of trouble swallowing a fat contract like Suh's given Gettleman's thrifty past.
Enter first-round pick Vernon Butler.
Butler is a monster of a man...at 6'4" 323 lbs., he's "long and strong" as they love to say about great DT prospects. It's also NOT a "reach" to have taken this kid no matter what shape the position group is in. I'm convinced that if Butler wasn't "at the top of our board" at #30 overall, he had to have been 2nd or 3rd at worst. The only real knock on him is that he played at La Tech, a smaller school, but he has pretty much all the physical qualities you look for in a solid DT prospect. He has also proven his potential is sky-high already in mini-camp, where he has turned more heads than a Victoria's Secret model in Milan.
Butler's availability and subsequent selection by Gettleman only confuses the issue with Short's contract. While talks were taking place, the Philadelphia Eagles signed their own phenom, 3-technique DT Fletcher Cox, to a contract paying him over $17 million per season...or about the same thing as Josh Norman wound up with in Washington.
But Short's that guy "up front" who is more important than Norman. Now, Gettleman seems to be playing chess in such a way as to re-load rather than re-sign some of his better draftees.
I'd have thought if an extension was going to get done, it would have been done by now. The passage of time only tightens the noose and fortifies Short's demands as others are nailing down a big payday while Gettleman seemingly is letting some of his more successful draft picks walk rather than PAY DA MAN!
I feel a bit like I'm pointing out the obvious in using the Hardy/Ealy comparison, but I've only recently seen anything at all published about it (h/t Black & Blue Review). It's almost the exact same set-up, too. The only real difference is that Ealy was drafted in the second round while Butler was drafted at the end of the first round.
Both kids were drafted to play, and sooner rather than later. You just don't spend high draft picks on guys SIMPLY for "contract leverage." You draft them with the idea of USING them a lot. Since Short and Butler both play the 3-tech in the 4-3, they literally do play the same position.
In fact, Butler might even be a better raw prospect than Short was at the same point in their careers, and Rivera & Gettleman may like what they see from Butler MORE than what they saw from Kawann. Recall, Star Lotulelei was the team's top pick with Short being the second DT we picked up that year...Star's the run-stuffer while Short's the disruptive interior penetrator/slasher AKA Warren Sapp that Butler looks to emulate someday in his own way.
This is just Act II of the Hardy situation. The NFL is what Charles Johnson's old nickname was -- BIG MONEY. The two must-haves are already locked up long-term: Cam and Luke. Now that the team has its second pricey decision to make sometime this year, the answer may well be already baked in the cake -- Kawann's days in Charlotte look...well, short.
IN Short, pun fully intended, it appears that Gettleman is fully willing to allow Kawann to walk over a few million dollars per year. This is not a criticism of Gettleman by me, however. It's simply a mental note that he better not be wrong on this one.
-- Follow me on Twitter @Ken_Dye