Have Faith, Panthers Fans - Gettleman and Rivera on Top of their Game

It's a bit of a stormy Saturday afternoon outside and one I don't want to dabble in and got to thinking.

Yes - in my case, a mind is a terrible thing, but putting that aside for the moment, please humor me with a few minutes of your time to help calm your fears over recent events regarding the Carolina Panthers.

I just wanted to share my impressions of some of the things I've been seeing and hearing over the past couple of months regarding the roster and wanted to try and help keep the "fanship" on a bit more even-keel by pointing out a few things that we DO know and see where that leads us, hm?


Please forgive any "rambling" here, but I'm trying to tie together a number of angles and it must necessarily be a bit wordy. Lots of information looked at, I promise. Bear with me. I gave up half a Saturday for you, so cut me some slack on this one okay? ;)

Despite any PC-like quotes Rivera may or may not say about a specific player, like DeSean "We'd be interested in looking at him" Jackson, General Manager David Gettleman has made things very, very clear on numerous occasions. In short, he wants to be able to have the ability to keep our home-grown "Star" (pun intended SO much) talent in Charlotte, and past the rookie four to five-year deals they start their careers there under.

Boiling it down, the two gentlemen - Gettleman and Rivera - are specific and ownership has its' say too:

"You don't want to be in a situation where you're four or five years into a guy and look around and say 'Hey, we can't afford to keep this guy!"

I think that's a Gettleman quote but Rivera wouldn't deny saying it either. That's the one thing they appear unified upon is holding on to their stars....yes, "Star" Lotulelei included with fellow tackle Kawann Short along with Luke and Cam.

It would also fit into the puzzle as to why they franchised Greg Hardy. They aren't 100% sold on him, only 95%, and what if he got hurt in 2014, and what if he got hit in the rear-end with a meteorite?

They pushed the decision on him down the road for a year because it was pushable.

They don't mind paying him what he's scheduled - $11.8 million-ish - for the season. If a freak injury happens, that's horrible but it's business and the organization isn't on the hook for 'em yet, either. When the cap increases next year, more players rotate into the picture as well but it leaves them with more options.

Marty Hurney would have signed Hardy to the Huge Megadeal this year. Gettleman, being shrewder and plausibly appealing to The Kraken's sense of loyalty and understanding about Hurney and the cap issues, retains Hardy's services for 2014 either way. The way they did it is just so that the organization, for reasons that are unlikely to happen, aren't on the hook for him over the long-term this year.

Meanwhile, the team retains as much control over a player as there is in a given season and the Franchise Tag acts as a no-cost short-term insurance policy, if nothing else.

Players sometimes huff at "The Label" being put on them and to his credit, Hardy hasn't said a bad word about it to my knowledge. We all know he'd have preferred a long-term deal this season. The Kraken is obviously an intelligent and astute self-promoter who uses the team as a platform to increase value in "his brand" AKA The Kraken.

I digress a tad on Hardy to make a point.

When you look with a more of a "Forest for the Trees" approach, it makes logical sense and it also means the team is looking to improve via the NFL draft, PERIOD!

That's the key to long-term success in the NFL. Seattle and Green Bay are two organizations that come to mind as being high in the "home-grown" department in general. Patriots too. So long as the Pack has AR-12, they'll probably contend. Seattle has been a team on the rise over the past few years and won the Super Bowl by completely destroying the NFL's most prolific offense ever.

That points to two things - defense wins championships as we all know but homegrown teams breed long-term sustainability. The Niners are another team that fits this bill. It's scary to think what they'll do with Frank Gore and a healthy Marcus Lattimore, isn't it? Nobody's talking about that right now. He was a fourth-rounder a year ago that they knew wouldn't see the field that year but were looking over a multi-seasonal period of time. At his physical peak, before a nasty lower-leg injury, he would be head and shoulders the top RB in this year's class. The Niners got him a year ago for a 4th rather than say a 2nd this season...and possibly 30th overall, even. Lattimore was that renowned at South Carolina and, before his Theismann-esque leg injury, had become nationally noticed.

It's the smart moves like that - assuming he works as advertised - that can make a team over the long run. If Lattimore is Gore's successor, he can prove it on the field.

While the Panthers have hit their share of gems, they've been at the predictable (now) places - Cam and Luke. Star and K-Short will join 'em up there if they keep playing the way they did as rookies and get better with experience, but Star especially looks like a keeper inside.

That's QB, MLB and DE nailed shut for 2014. Out of sight, out of mind for now. Star and Kawann have several more years before their contracts renew.

Focusing on the apparent lack of talent at the other positions carries an obvious risk on both sides but we have to see the two Head Cheeses' outward calm. We also have to realize they're executing a much, much longer-range plan than we fans are yelling about. Smitty one day, Ginn and LaFell gone. No D-Jax in sight and Jordan Gross retired.

All of this while not giving any thought to several phases of talent acquisition still open for us: free agency, "The Draft," and unrestricted free agency. More on the last part in a moment.

They can't shell out $2 million or $1.5 million here or there for a Ginn, Munnerlyn, or what others signed for with other teams and expect for the money to be there when it's needed the most.

Rivera likened the salary cap jump of $10 million this year to having a credit card and getting a bonus. The smart thing is to pay down on what you owe so room is there when you need it. That's when the names came up. I don't recall Hardy's by name - so file that one away for next year perhaps - but wasn't looking for it particularly at the time, either. Gotta check on that.

Remember that so-called "role-players" are named that for a distinct reason that is self-apparent. They're the expendable ones - the pawns, if you will. The number of those you can plan on having by the end of the following season is near zero when they are signed, so don't let that scare you too much.

We also have to look at in-house talent for solutions first. Could the team have signed a free agent that could help win us ball games for years to come? If the answer is no, the point is moot. If yes (D-Jax fans), is it worth his price?

We aren't sure of his price, but it's likely to be in the double-digit range annually.

Here's what you don't want to hear - Smitty became expendable this year and his strong personality is probably the line of demarcation. He's just too intense to keep paying with declining skills while a kid 12 years younger can do the same things without the mouth, and that's before Jackson became available to not consider.

That's the reality of it and its got the Brain Trust's (Gettleman/Rivera/Ownership) fingerprints all over it - akin to a somewhat messy celebrity divorce that the Brain Trust poorly executed.

It's the biggest mistake of the Gettleman Era....not in letting him loose but in how they mishandled it in a PR way.

The NFL draft is in May, and a bigger, stronger, faster, more "21st-Century" receiver will likely be available then or perhaps Brandin Cooks is Jackson's rookie clone. Perhaps there's a budding star they're high on in-house and we just don't know it yet? Too many variables right now to righteously panic.

I do like Underwood for the price, and for the record. Clowney may start faster but is a 31 yr old veteran who was acquired as much for his locker room stability and to "mentor" the team's younger receivers as for his on-field ability...and his low price tag.

It appears the last "second-tier" LT prospect can pretty solidly be had by Carolina's fourth-round pick or the third for certain, The Brain Trust wants to use picks 28 and 60 overall on the BPA (Best Player Available) that comes anywhere close to being a position of any need. Doing the same in the third would be great, but you don't always get the breaks. Gettleman comes from the New York Giants who already had a reputation for drafting great linebackers in the '80's and '90's even though they had depth as he was earning his NFL stripes as a scout. That had to have had an effect on his own approach to the draft.

So what we have is a group of men who appear to be taking that very long term organizational approach and not jumping on a flashy, undersized WR with an even larger price tag. Ain't gonna happen and never was looking back. Should've been obvious at the time and I never wanted him. Why not?

See above. We could get a rookie in the draft with those skills - yes, in a draft supposedly with the deepest talent pool in over a decade - anywhere probably up through the third, perhaps the fourth round.

Assuming we have no talent in-house lurking around about to burst out (save for RG Edmund Kugbila perhaps) into NFL games, we still need WR, CB, LT the most. Signing Roman Harper kicked that safety can down the road unless one "falls" to them.

What will you say when those positions are among the top-four or five in the Panthers' draft? It's less than six weeks away. After that, there's the UFAs (Undrafted Free Agents) to sign. Ever hear of a guy named Victor Cruz? Gettleman's doing - in the UFA stage - his final season in New York.

There you go.

The philosophy is to let the talent come to you; do not reach or over-reach for it. Fall in love with your true stars - Cam, Luke, Star, The Kraken, possibly Short and Thomas Davis. Those are the guys you want to keep above all else - the rest are expendable and you build around your core talent.

Therefore, for example, I don't think the team would "reach" for a Morgan Moses in the first when others that probably are nearly equal prospects could be taken as late as the fourth or fifth rounds. Look at smaller schools like Nevada and South Dakota State U for those guys.

If any "reaching" is done...isn't it better to do so using a later pick than an earlier one? Last year, DT Star Lotulelei was talked about as the top or a sure-fire top-three pick in the draft until a heart issue sidelined him at the NFL Combine. 

It was temporary - I personally spoke with two of the team doctors about this specific issue myself - and Star had a very good prognosis by draft day. He still fell and the Panthers had the luxury of drafting their BPA that happened to also fit the team's biggest need.

It also explains the Kuechly pick the previous year above any said need at defensive tackle. Beason was healthy, but by choosing Kuechly, we have the NFL's best inside linebacker and in grabbing Star before he fell any further, bang-bang we have two "core" players with consecutive top picks. 

Toss in Cam the previous season and it's three-for-three.

Liking that track record, I see the Panthers going about it that way. After their draft, you'll probably scratch your head (as I probably will) when they hit up a center in the 5th or something. That's one effect of things - picks that don't seem to make sense position-wise. Kenyon Barner last year? BPA. Kugbila too.

Unfortunately, what all these things have in common is that the Panthers' Brass knows their core players really are only a handful of guys and the others are all expendable.

Beason.  James Anderson. Captain. Smitty (!?!) Ginn. LaFell. The one I miss the most is Mike Mitchell and he's the one guy I think Rivera wishes he could have kept. In his place is Roman Harper, whom they did sign in free agency - along with WRs Cotchery and Underwood.

What - you want DeSean Jackson talent for only a few million a year?

That's what the NFL Draft is for!!!

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