Excerpts from Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman from Wednesday at the NFL combine.
Q: What kind of a priority is re-signing Ted Ginn Jr?
DG: We want Ted back, it’s just a matter of getting there. I don’t discuss negotiations, I don’t discuss contracts. Do we want Ted back? Yes. Contracts get done when they’re supposed to get done.
Q: Does Charles Johnson have another year left in him?
DG: Just like we want Teddy back, we want Charles back.
Q: How close do you think you were to getting Julius Peppers back in a couple years ago?
DG: I’ve never met Julius, I don’t know. It sounded like it had a reasonable shot, and at the last minute, poof, he went to Green Bay.
Q: How optimistic are you that you can come to a long-term deal with Kawann Short?
DG: So far, communication’s open and it’s been very amicable. So we’ll see.
Q: Do you feel there’s a lot of potential at safety and at nickel in this draft class?
DG: The safeties, the corners, the running backs and defensive ends — it’s a pretty heavy group at those four positions. There’s a lot to pick from.
Q: Most draft experts aren’t bullish on this offensive tackle class. Would you consider addressing that position in free agency?
DG: We’re going to use every means possible. The draft, … listen, four years ago, did any of us expect Star (Lotulelei) to be there at 14? None of us did. So you don’t know who’s going to be there at eight. But as I’ve said a million times, I want free agency to set up our draft so we can truly take the best player.
Q: How rare is it to see this many quality left starters in free agency?
DG: It’s crazy. It’s unusual. You’ve got some guys coming off injuries. Denver made the decision they made. Jets made the decision they made. To answer your question, it’s unusual.
Q: With the unknown with Michael Oher, do you almost have to go out and get one of those guys?
DG: I’m not going to lie — you’ve got to entertain it, of course. Again, last year was an unusual situation — pulling the tag off of Josh. It was very unusual and it ain’t happening again. Obviously, I put myself in the position that I definitely don’t want to do. We were in a situation where we had to get corners. Now, give me a little credit: It was a corner-heavy draft and I knew that. At the point I pulled the tag on Josh, we had really evaluated the corners. I told you before, we weren’t going to push guys up and shop hungry. To answer your question, free agency is to set up the draft and I want to put us back in that spot.
Q: How different is it to go into free agency with maybe as much as $40 million under the cap?
DG: Different since I got here. We had to cut guys to get under, then the next year I think we had to touch one or two contracts to get under, then the last three years we’ve been able to create separation, sort of speak. Meanwhile, you’ve got teams that have got crazy money under the cap. It gives you flexibility. It allows you, for lack of a better term, it allows you to expand your thought process and we’ll see.
Q: Do you think Cam Newton needs to do prepare differently this offseason?
DG: Listen, it’s their free time. Some guys like to play video games and some guys like to do Nickelodeon shows. So it is what it is. As far as I know, Cam’s in Atlanta and getting done what he has to get done.
Q: What’s one question you ask of these players to find out more about their character?
DG: When we interview players, we’ve got a pretty good file on who they are as people and that’s what we go after. We had one guy one year, it was one of these guys who was never caught but always there. We sat him down, had a general conversation, asked him a couple specific questions. We were there with him for 15 minutes, he walks out of the room, I looked at (director of player personnel) Donny Gregory and I said, ‘He will never have a Carolina Panther on his lid,’ because you knew he was full of crap. From talking to people, you get a feel. Every once in awhile, you’re going to get fooled. What happened in ’15 in our locker room was real. That was 63 guys committed to doing the right thing every day all day long. That was real. You need that and that’s what we’re looking for.
Q: Without identifying that player, what happened after that?
DG: He’s in the league, but the team’s had all types of problems with him.
Q: What were some of the warning signs in that meeting?
DG: He couldn’t look you in the eye. We had information we knew he was lying about. Some guys you can tell. I’m a city kid — you can tell.
DG: Where do I begin? What a difference a year makes. No one’s happy about what happened last year. It was frustrating to deal with. But you’ve got to learn and you’ve got to move on. There are some really good things that came out. Right now, we’re excited about the number of players that are working out. We’ve got a bunch of guys downstairs as disappointed as everybody else is and they’re getting ready. I’ve spoken to Cam. He’s come through a couple times. He looks good. He’s positive, upbeat and knows where we’ve got to get better. Signing Mario (Addison), Wes (Horton) and putting the tag on KK (Short) is a big piece for us — solidifying that defense line. The play of those two young corners, by the time we got to the end of the year they were legitimate NFL players and we’re very pleased about that. Luke (Kuechly) is back working out like a banshee. And with four picks in the top 98, we’ve got a chance to get four really good players because this is a pretty deep draft.
Q: What do you think about a 240-pound running back?
DG: Big running backs are nice. They tend to run people over better than 180-pound running backs. It’s a deep running back group, we know that. It’ll be interesting to see how the whole process plays out because we’re really just halfway through it.
Q: Besides size, what are the attributes you look for in a running back?
DG: Obviously you’re looking for vision and you’re looking for feet. You’re looking for hands; you’re looking for blitz pickup. I’ve said this before — one of the toughest things for these running backs coming in is the blitz pickup stuff. It keeps a lot of them off the field because you can’t go out there, he waves his hand, ‘I’m out here, we’re just running the ball, don’t worry about it.’ It doesn’t work like that. So it’s all of those factors, and you want to be able to catch the ball as well.
Q: With Jonathan Stewart entering the last year of his deal and with Mike Tolbert getting cut, do you envision drafting a running back?
DG: That’s a fair statement.
Q: Do you envision Mario Addison’s role expanding next year?
DG: Mario has really been, to a certain degree, a situational pass rusher for us. His game’s really grown and he’s learning how to play the run. The biggest thing with those undersized defensive ends is to get off the ball and jump the tackle before he can get rolling. Then they have to understand base leverage and they’ve got to understand moving their feet. So the first thing they do is not get widened. The next thing they’ve got to do is constrict the run game and Mario’s really improved in that phase of his game. So he’s going to play more, plain and simple. He’s going to play more.
Q: Has Michael Oher cleared the concussion protocol yet?
DG: No. The answer’s no.
Q: Do you have to start working under the assumption that you won’t have him available?
DG: You can’t deny what’s going on. … We’re in the unknown and we’re going to move forward. We’ve got a plan and we’ll just see where it goes. I can’t give you anything more than that.
Q: What’s your evaluation of the offensive tackles in this draft?
DG: The last couple, three years was pretty strong. Not so strong this year. That’s what I know.
Q: How did the meeting with Victor Cruz go and how much does he have left?
DG: The meeting went fine. Obviously, I have a history with Victor. We just shared ideas, wanted to get a physical on him, had him sit with the coaches and we’re just going to continue to discuss it.
Q: What was your evaluation of Kelvin Benjamin coming off the knee injury and Devin Funchess in year 2?
DG: At my postseason presser, I said the biggest issue we had on offense was we just couldn’t get any rhythm. I think they were part of that offense. The first thing, when you come off an ACL like Kelvin did, he was not 100 percent healthy from the jump. That takes time. There isn’t a guy coming off an ACL that the first time he steps on the field he’s 100 percent ready to go. Kelvin started strong, played well the first couple weeks. Then it got kinda up and down. From my view, the last three games he finished real strong. If you just want to talk numbers, Kelvin only finished about 30-40 yards shy of his rookie year. Fewer catches, but I think he had I think almost a 17-yard average. You’ve got a wide with a 17-yard average, you’re not angry. The same thing with Funch. Their games have to mature. You’ve got to be a pro. We all get there. You’re a better guy in your job today then you were three years ago. I’d like to think I’m a better GM, despite the 6-10 record. Don’t kill me here. I’m getting better at my craft. Well, our offense was up and down and we all need to have more continuity and get better at what we’re doing.
Q: Ron (Rivera) has talked about evolving the offense, but how do you evolve with most of the staff and personnel intact?
DG: I know our coaches are bright men and they can evolve. I hate that word. They can change. Stick a needle in my eye, I’m different than the first time you guys saw me up here … The bottom line is the responsibility of the coaches is they have to evaluate the skills and talents of our players, and from there they have to put them in positions to succeed. … You’ve got access to the entire league, and this is a steal league. You steal from me, I’m stealing from you. So they’re very capable of making adjustments.
Q: What would have been a better word than evolve?
DG: I don’t know. Listen, here’s what I’m going to tell you: If you maintain the status quo, you ain’t getting better. You can’t maintain the status quo, so whatever word you want to use to improve and move off of the status quo, have at it.
Q: Are there certain positions where you feel comfortable spending free agent dollars?
DG: I think it’s more if the guy’s worth it. If you go car shopping, what car is worth the money? What are my needs, what do I want and what am I going to spend? If I want a Honda Odyssey van, that’s what I’m getting and I’m gonna buy it. To answer your question, there’s an old theory: You pay pass rushers, you pay quarterbacks and you pay touchdown scorers. That’s what you pay, that’s a theory. Not necessarily mine.
Q: In the interview process, what are some of the biggest turnoffs?
DG: The biggest thing we’re looking for is we want guys who understand the game. We want guys who hate to lose. Not want to win. We all want to win. Who hate to lose. And quality people. One of the biggest things I have to do as a general manager is eliminate distractions. We can’t bring players into our building that we’re worrying what they’re going to be about when the lights go down. Those are the kinds of things that we’re looking for. We’re looking at character because character does win football games.