Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman on Thursday met with local media for the first time since the preseason.
How would you say this team is built heading into the playoffs?
"As I have said a number of times, Marty left some really good pieces, and through the draft and I think we have made some very judicious signings in free agency. We had the cap issue at first and we’re working through that. We’ve been able to extend the guys we feel are the core — Cam, Luke and Greg and TD. You always have work to do but I think we have used every avenue — we’ve traded for players, taken guys off the waiver wire and practice squads. We’ve used every avenue available to us. Mark Koncz and his staff on his pro side and Donny Gregory and his staff have done a great job."
You're a positive guy, but could you have imagined 15-1?
"Really and truly, I have to be honest, no. There are only seven teams that have ever been 15-1. And there have only two who have gone undefeated and one of those was in a 14-game season. Did I envision this? No. Did I envision us playing well? I know that when I spoke to you guys before the season I said it was our strongest roster ever. But 15-1? Who expects that because it’s so stinken hard to win games in this league. What Ron and his staff and the players have accomplished is special. We’re excited to continue.”
He's pretty much a shoe in to win MVP. So guessing you're happy with the contract you gave Cam Newton?
"Is that a rhetorical question?"
"He has fulfilled everything we thought he could be. And he’s just had a great year. Again, the franchise quarterbacks make everybody better — that’s what they do. Great quarterbacks do that and he’s made us better. He’s made his team better. The leadership and through his play and who he is as a person. I’m surely very excited to get that contract done."
How well equipped is this team for the postseason?
"When you are rolling along you say how far can we really go. Are we built for the long run? What I really like about this team is the balance that we have. There isn’t any position group that you say, ‘Oh gosh, this team could take advantage of that group.’ This is a matchup game. The NFL is a matchup game, don’t let anybody tell you any different. It’s one of those situations where I like our balance and I have felt good about it all year long. The guys we had come off the bench and had to play have shown they are quality NFL players. They give you what you need. AJ played well, Amini blew the knee, Colin Cole played well early in the year when Star couldn’t play. And you look at what Cortland Finnegan has been doing for us. And now Robert stepped off the bench and has a pick and seven tackles. So I really like the balance."
Is there one moment this season you feel galvanized the team?
"That’s a hard question. Josh’s pick in the end zone against the Saints. Coming from behind in OT against Indy. Cam in the fourth quarter in the second Saints game and the determination he showed against the Giants. And the way we bounced back after the Atlanta game. I don’t think you can put your finger and say this one thing did it. Football is the truest of all team games. You have 11 guys out there, and 10 guys can do the right thing and one guy does the wrong thing, and it could mean six points either way. To say one thing, I think it has been a culmination of a lot of things. We have a true team."
With so many changes around the league, how vital has it been to have some continuity around here?
"The Steelers, the Giants have proven what continuity does. I haven’t had one moment where I have regretted anything in terms of Mr. (Richardson) keeping Ron and working with Ron has been just a joy. We communicate and the continuity is huge. Again there are so many moving parts to what we’re doing that when you disperse more moving parts it just doesn’t work."
You're big into the pass rush. Do you have concerns about that group right now?
"Every game is different. Just look at last Sunday. What did we have two sacks? One Mario and one Kyle. The biggest thing is we kept moving them off the spot. Do we want to get home? Sure. The biggest thing is the disruption involved. Our front four is consistently disrupting the other quarterback. The bottom line is I think we’re third in sacks. But it is the game within the game. There was one play Jameis had the receiver open deep and he got pushed to his left and he threw it five yards over the guy’s head. If you move them off their spot you know you are affecting the play. Our sack production is better than last year, not quite as good as 2013. But you don’t have too many 60-sack years, let’s be honest. What is the quarterback rating against us right now, something like 65 percent? That’s pretty damn good, now. It doesn’t bother me because they are working hard and they are effective."
What’s the value of a shutdown corner like Josh Norman?
“Josh has had a great year. I’m not going to deny that. He’s been great for us. I love him. You know I don’t talk about contracts.’’
After 15-1, will anything less than a Super Bowl be disappointing?
“Bottom line is, you know how hard 15-1 is? That is so flipping hard. Listen, I love our balance as a team. I love where we are mentally and physically. We’re healthy. We’re pretty darn healthy. I just love our balance and our mental attitude and our approach to the game. I love having as good a coaching staff as there is in the league.’’
Has anyone besides Cleveland reached out to talk to Sean McDermott?
“I’ve had phone conversations, but Cleveland is the only one that has asked.’’
What is the value of the rest of your management and scouting team?
“Let me tell you something. As I said earlier, Marty left us with some very good building blocks, not only on the field but also off the field. Brandon Beane and Rob Rogers in their capacity have been fantastic. And Marl Koncz and his guys on the college staff have all done a great job. I walked in the door, didn’t know very many of these guys. We changed some things philosophically. They bought in. Marty put together a great group. I’ve been blessed with it. I’ve never seen a bad chemistry make the Super Bowl. Let me tell you something, we have great chemistry.’’
What was the biggest personnel decision you made this year?
“Probably Michael (Oher). I know everybody killed me on that one. One of the things you have to do, you have to understand, is you can’t always go from A to Z. Sometimes, when you’re evaluating players and you’re looking at them, sometimes you can only increase incrementally. Michael has been a huge boost for us and settled us down. You guys see it. You guys have been around Cam his whole career. You see the confidence he has when he sets up behind those five hog mollies. It’s a sight to behold. And Michael has been (a big part of it).’’
Are you concerned right now about your banged-up secondary?
“Cortland has done a heck of a job. He’s gotten better. With Cortland, he didn’t go to camp with anybody, so obviously he was a nine-year vet. He’s played at a very high level, so we worked him in and he’s getting getter every week. He really had a good game against Tampa. As far as Robert is concerned, he’s bounced around a little bit. He was in camp with New England. We liked what we saw. We brought him in the same time we brought in Cortland. We just felt Cortland had a better skill set for what we were looking for at that time. But you saw what Robert did (against Tampa). As long as our front keeps pushing those quarterbacks around, I have great confidence.’’
Is Devin Funchess showing what you thought he could do?
“Yes. It’s funny, when you’re drafting juniors, obviously, they’re not going to be as polished. And I have great confidence in Ricky Proehl. That Michigan situation was a mess. It just wasn’t working. Those guys walked in in August and Brady (Hoke) was a dead-man walking. And that's not to disparage Brady, he's a hell of a coach. But it just wasn't working. The toughest thing for wide receivers is to understand how physical the game is. Cause you’ve got to think about it — how much man coverage do you see on the college level? If you see it, it’s like you’ve got to write it down and go to a notary public and prove it was there. So that’s a big adjustment for receivers. I don’t care who they are. They haven’t seen that kind of physical play. It’s like against the Giants. On one snap, Josh pressed Beckham at the line of scrimmage, and he hit him as soon as the ball was snapped, and he knocked Beckham right on his fanny. You think that ever happened at LSU? That’s a big part of it. Devin has just worked and worked and Sunday showed the fruit of his labor.’’
Were you disappointed or satisfied by how you guys conducted yourselves in the Giants game?
"I don't want to go there. It's over. It happened. I went through the tape and in that situation, our guys handled themselves well."
Ron Rivera said yesterday you built this team methodically. Would you agree?
"I'm a methodical person by nature. The biggest thing you have to do is you have to evaluate your own team and you can't do it with your heart. You have to do it with your head and experience. Once you get through your evaluations, then you've got to make your decisions and they're hard. Someone just asked me what's the hardest thing I have to do in my job. The hardest thing I have to do is look at a guy and tell him it's time to go home. But you have to be honest with your evaluations. You have to be thorough. If I told you how much film I watched on Michael Oher, you'd fall down. But that's really what it's about, being thorough and methodical. People want you to make splashes, and people want you to go sign this guy and sign that guy. When Kelvin went down, people wanted me to sign every 95-year-old wide receiver that ever put a pad on. But the bottom line is you have to trust in your evaluation. As long as you're thorough, you'll be fine. Will you make a mistake? Everybody makes mistakes."
How much film did you watch on Michael?
"All his '14 tape. Eight games of '13. And I think I watched 12 games of '12 when he played left tackle for Baltimore and they went to the Super Bowl. That takes a while."
So how did you go from a team that was left for dead when Kelvin Benjamin went down to 15-1?
"The narrative that starts in the spring: 'Panthers were lucky to go 7-8-1. They're in a crappy division. They played Arizona, who had their 3rd-string quarterback out there.' Go to Seattle, play them tough, get no credit for it. And then me believing that we had the best roster that we've had since I've been here. Like I said, having faith in our evaluation process and the players we have on the roster and our coaches. Was I concerned? I'd have to be a moron not to be concerned when Kelvin went down. But again, we believed in these guys. I know Philly struggled during the preseason. That was a major concern. But they all kept working and kept getting better and better and Cam's had a great year."
Are you close to being completely dug out from under the cap?
"We're getting real close, but what's happening now is you do a good job bringing players in and — How do I keep this guy and how do I keep that guy? We actually met yesterday off and on for about three hours, four hours. You get a headache and you get frustrated, but we'll work through it and we'll be ok."
Is Kawann Short ahead of where you even imagined he'd be?
"I want everybody in here to raise their hand who laughed when we took defensive tackles back-to-back. As I told you then, we had a first-round grade on KK. We had Star rated above him, and I was convinced Star would not be there in the second round. (Kawann) has done what we thought he was capable of. He's tied for the league lead in sacks by inside guys. He's having a hell of a year against the run. He's a legitimate three-down defensive tackle and we're thrilled to have him."
What are your thoughts on Tom Coughlin's end with the Giants?
"Tom's a wonderful man, and he taught me so much, and he's a hell of a coach. I just want what's best for him. He's a true ambassador of the game. He loves the game. He's a ball coach. I don't know what the Lord has planned for him, but he's a hell of a coach and a hell of a man."