The current architect of the Carolina Panthers doesn’t care what we think.
If general manager Dave Gettleman listened to the media and fans, his team wouldn't be 15-1. If he paid attention to outside noise, he could’ve kept Carolina in a circle of cap space hell by bringing in overpriced, quick-fix free agents. If he were influenced by people who called him crazy, Steve Smith’s scowl likely would have made Cam Newton think twice about dancing and dabbing.
One of the main reasons for Gettleman’s success since coming to Carolina is he’s done whatever the heck he felt he needed to do. He hasn’t had an overbearing owner breathing down his neck. He doesn’t have a fear of getting fired. At 64, this is his last job whether it ends well or not.
Gettleman was brought in to help the Panthers win a Super Bowl and build a consistent winner. But to get there, he's had to be football's version of Harvey Keitel's character in “Pulp Fiction.” As a cleaner, Winston Wolfe solved problems. As messy as they were, he was completely cool under pressure.
Gettleman isn’t the lone architect of the three-time NFC South Champs. Eight of the Panthers’ 10 Pro Bowl players were brought in by former general manager Marty Hurney. But Gettleman was called to clean up a salary cap mess, and he’s done it as calmly as a cleaner.
Because he’ll eventually have to break his ‘I don’t talk to the media during the season’ silence if the Panthers make a playoff run, Gettleman spent a chunk of time with local media shortly after the start of Thursday’s practice. For 20 minutes, he was asked to explain how a team left for dead after top wideout Kelvin Benjamin went down in training camp turned in the league’s best record. Essentially, it was yet another reminder why it's foolish to immediately judge people with actual experience before their moves even play out.
Here are three examples:
1.) Signing Michael Oher to play left tackle
Well, Gettleman did pop in last year's tape, both of what went wrong on the Panthers' line and what Oher struggled with in Tennessee.
"If I told you how much film I watched on Michael Oher, you'd fall down," Gettleman said.
"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.
"I know everybody killed me on that one. One of the things 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).’’
2.) Not signing an old guy to fill the Benjamin-sized hole at WR
Wes Welker caught 13 passes for the Rams this season. Reggie Wayne spent less than two weeks with the Patriots. Randy Moss coached CrossFit.
"People want you to make splashes, and people want you to go sign this guy and sign that guy," Gettleman said. "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."
3.) Taking two defensive tackles with his first two picks of the '13 Draft
About an hour before Gettleman met with the media Thursday, Kawann Short was named NFC Defensive Player of the Month for the second time this season. Before that, no other defensive tackle in NFL history had won the award twice in the same year.
"I want everybody here to raise their hand who laughed when we took defensive tackles back-to-back," Gettleman joked. "As I told you then, we had a first-round grade on KK. We had Star (Lotulelei) 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."
Despite doing a commendable job while making critics look silly, Gettleman hasn't earned a full victory lap just yet. The big Super Bowl carrot is still out there, and until that's won, praise is fleeting.
But as teams like Philadelphia are cleaning up from the mess the "innovative" Chip Kelly left behind and Cleveland hires baseball executives, the Panthers are sticking to their old-school football model. Building from within and filling holes with little-known parts isn't sexy in March, but it's made the past three Januarys in Carolina much more interesting.