Dave Gettleman deserves credit for where Panthers are, but not all of it

As Panthers GM, Dave Gettleman was known as a no-nonsense executive who placed an emphasis on his offensive and defensive lines. AP Photo/Chuck Burton

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- DeAngelo Williams was angry during the 2015 offseason when he was released by then-Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman. The team's all-time leading rusher rejoiced prior to the 2017 training camp when Gettleman was fired, calling him a "snake" on social media.

So when asked how much of the current Carolina roster should be credited to Gettleman and Marty Hurney, who returned for a second general manager tenure after Gettleman's departure, his answer was a bit surprising.

"Dude, I'm going to tell you, I don't know that it is either one of them. It is the ownership now," said Williams, referring to David Tepper, who during the offseason purchased the organization from founder Jerry Richardson. "They just signed Eric Reid. There is no way in hell the owner would have touched Eric Reid before this year.

"He was just, 'We're going to do it the right way, we're going to do this, this, this and this.' There was a scale that he had, and if anything didn't fit on that scale, then he wouldn't touch it. This is a sign of the times."

Gettleman was the sign of the times from January 2013 until July 2017. He helped the Panthers to a 15-1 record in 2015 and a trip to Super Bowl 50. He took a team that was in what he called "salary-cap hell" from $16 million over the cap to that much under it.

He prescribed to the theory that "individuals win games, teams win championships," which allowed him to make decisions like the one to release Williams. He also frequently talked about how "character wins games."

Now Gettleman is trying to do the same thing for the New York Giants, who visit Bank of America on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (Fox).

Gettleman declined to be interviewed about his time with the Panthers and his health -- his cancer is in remission after being diagnosed with lymphoma this year. As was the case when he was at Carolina, the now 67-year-old doesn't do interviews once the season begins.

However, Giants coach Pat Shurmur had nothing but praise for how Gettleman has battled cancer.

"Dave's health, he's fighting through it," Shurmur said. "All of the reports are good. He had one of his last scans [Wednesday] to find out the results of his treatments to date. He's battling it. To this point, all the reports have been very positive in terms of treatments and healings."

Shurmur also likes what Gettleman has done so far to build a foundation like the one at Carolina, where there was an emphasis on big men -- Gettleman affectionately called them "hog mollies" -- particularly on the defensive front.

"He came in with the philosophy that we're gonna get big guys and put them up front because big guys allow you to compete, especially down the stretch," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. "And one of the things we always talked about was running the ball consistently and being a physical team and grinding it out up front. And being stout up front and able to stop people.

"I think that's one of the things you can point towards as far as legacies are concerned."

Even Hurney in the past admittedly learned things from Gettleman, noting the importance of keeping the emotional part of his brain out of football decisions.

"Everybody you talk to in that building admires him," Hurney said during Carolina's Super Bowl run.

Gettleman might still be at Carolina had he not resisted signing outside linebacker Thomas Davis and tight end Greg Olsen to extensions, which, according to multiple sources, led Richardson to make the change at GM.

Rivera didn't want to get into why Gettleman was fired, other than to say, "Like everybody else, I was surprised" and that he can't wait to see him on Sunday.

Carolina defensive end Wes Horton credits Gettleman with helping Carolina re-establish its identity with three straight trips to the playoffs.

"People are going to criticize Gettleman for some of the decisions he made, but all in all, he was a great GM," said Horton, who was signed by Gettleman as an undrafted free agent.

Quarterback Cam Newton has respect for Gettleman and "everything he has going on" with his health. But his focus on Sunday is the Giants defense that he says will be one of the best he has seen thus far in 2018.

"I ain't playing Dave Gettleman on Sunday," Newton said.

But it's worth a look at how much of Carolina's success should be credited to Gettleman versus Hurney.

Of the 28 players Gettleman drafted, seven are starting for the Panthers and 14 remain on the roster. Four are not on an NFL roster.

Five of the starters are players Hurney originally drafted during his first go-around, including centerpieces Newton and Luke Kuechly. That's also including Davis, who is serving the last game of a four-game suspension.

Throw in rookie cornerback Donte Jackson and Hurney is responsible for drafting six current starters.

Only two -- defensive tackle Kawann Short and guard Trai Turner -- of the 11 players Gettleman drafted in his first two seasons remain on the roster. They also are his only Pro Bowl selections among five draft classes.

All five of the starters Hurney drafted in his first go-around have been to multiple Pro Bowls. Newton has been to three, Kuechly five, Davis three, center Ryan Kalil five and Julius Peppers nine.

Hurney also made arguably the best trade in Carolina history when he gave a third-round pick to the Chicago Bears for Olsen, now a three-time Pro Bowl selection.

The Panthers were 40-23-1 (62.5 winning percentage) with three playoff appearances during Gettleman's four seasons, including an NFL-best 15 wins in 2015.

The Panthers are 93-92 (52.2 percent) under Hurney from the time he was named general manager in 2002 through his firing after a 1-5 start in 2012 and since his return last year.

Gettleman made some tough calls, none tougher than releasing all-time leading receiver Steve Smith and Williams because they were aging veterans with big salary-cap numbers. He also rescinded the franchise tag of Josh Norman after the cornerback made the Pro Bowl in 2015.

Hurney was criticized for giving veteran players more than they were worth, especially the $76 million deal defensive end Charles Johnson got in 2011 and the $42.5 million deal quarterback Jake Delhomme got in 2009 prior to his worst season, which led to his release.

Hurney also helped the Panthers reach the Super Bowl following the 2003 season.

Each has their plusses and minuses.

So, perhaps Williams made a good point noting the change in direction of the organization since Tepper arrived over what Gettleman and Hurney have done.

That makes the signing of Reid, who has a collusion grievance against the NFL in which he claims his decision to kneel with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick during the national anthem kept teams from signing him until now, more significant.

"If I'm a Panther fan, I'm excited," Williams said last weekend while serving as an honorary pace car driver at Charlotte Motor Speedway. "Because now you know that you will touch guys that can play football because that is what you signed them up to play for, and then you can help them on the back end if they have any off-the-field issues.

"So it's one of those things now to where we know you want to win, not that you want to do it the right way and be at the bottom of the totem pole. Because I said all the time -- and people don't want to hear this -- good guys don't always come in first, especially in NFL football. It's guys that play good football that come in first."