Panthers GM reveals little but does a lot

Panthers coach Ron Rivera and GM Dave Gettleman met the press on Tuesday. Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/MCT/Getty Images

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman is funny and endearing. You can envision spending hours on a bar stool, chatting with him about anything and everything -- although his thick Boston accent takes some getting used to for those of us with thick Southern accents.

On Tuesday, he entertained Charlotte-based media for 36 minutes.

OK, coach Ron Rivera was there, too. But it was in more of a silent, supportive role, spending most of this time smiling as Gettleman addressed contracts and the future of a team that on Sunday completed a 12-5 season with a loss to San Francisco in the NFC playoffs.

You tend to become secondary when your general manager hasn't spoken publicly to the media since training camp.

Gettleman, as he is so adept at doing, didn't say a lot in regard to specifics. We still don't know if defensive end Greg Hardy will be back with a new contract or a franchise tag, or if he will move on to another team. We still don't know if the team wants left tackle Jordan Gross to return for a 12th season.

We still don't know if quarterback Cam Newton will get a long-term deal or if the team will use the fifth-year option as it's entitled.

But in not saying a lot, Gettleman said a great deal. His message was one of patience, of making sure proper time is taken to make full evaluations before making decisions that will impact the franchise for years.

"We've got to evaluate the whole thing," Gettleman said. "We're cap-challenged. You guys are probably going to walk out of here [going], 'Dave doesn't want to answer any questions.' The fact of the matter, it's the truth -- it's not going to change this year. So we've got to sit down and talk over the next month and figure out what we're going to do.

"I like the position we're in. I feel strongly in our evaluation process, and we'll make the best decisions for the Carolina Panthers moving forward."

Let me read between the lines for you:

• The Panthers were more than $16 million over the salary cap before Gettleman arrived from the New York Giants in February. They are more than $17 million under the cap now, but that still makes money tight with 21 players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents and Newton available to renegotiate.

• While the team would love to keep everyone who made this season possible, it's probably not going to happen, nor should it happen. There will be areas such as wide receiver and the secondary to improve through free agency and the draft, which might make current players expendable.

• Key players such as Newton, middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, wide receiver Steve Smith, defensive end Charles Johnson and defensive tackle Star Lotulelei are in place to make what happened this season sustainable.

This past season is proof that if you have a strong core, you can build around it with role players. Look at the offensive line and secondary, where multiple players were moved in and out of the lineup because of injuries or lack of performance.

Nate Chandler, who finished the season as the starting right guard, was on the defensive line a year ago.

"We've got a good group of guys," Rivera said in one of his brief comments. "But again, we've got to evaluate. That's probably the key word right now. We've got to evaluate."

Gettleman has proven to be a great evaluator, which he was known for with the Giants. He made Lotulelei and fellow defensive tackle Kawann Short his first two picks of the 2013 draft. They played huge roles in making the defense the second-best in the NFL.

Gettleman targeted linebacker A.J. Klein in the fifth round, and he proved to be a valuable asset when starter Chase Blackburn was sidelined against San Francisco. He also targeted Blackburn, bringing him from the Giants.

He made the call to trade Jon Beason to the Giants after three games. And although he received only a seventh-round pick for him, the defense came together after the move.

What Gettleman has done with the salary cap has been nothing short of miraculous. He convinced players with big deals to take cuts. He convinced Gross to cut the final year off his contract, which is why his future is up in the air.

"The gaffes I made this year didn't hurt us too much," Gettleman said with a laugh.

Asked what gaffes, he laughed again and let out a "Woooo" that would have made Ric Flair proud (if we're still allowed to use that name here).

Then there was a long silence. When I suggested he wasn't going to answer the question about mistakes, Gettleman smiled and said, "Let's say I didn't make any big ones."

He doesn't want to make one now, which is why he is playing his cards so close to the vest. He is also smart enough to know this wasn't all his doing.

After repeatedly saying how strapped the team was under the cap, he praised the former general manager that put him in a good situation through at least 2015.

"Let me say this right here and right now, Marty Hurney has a lot to be proud of," Gettleman said of his predecessor. "He left us with a helluva core. Hired this guy [Rivera], drafted Cam. He's got a lot to be proud of.

"When I got the job, of all the GM jobs I felt this was the best job. And you know what? I guessed right."

So did the Panthers when they took a chance on the man who had been bypassed for general manager jobs so many times he was ready to step back in his role with the Giants.

"I came in and no one went out the door and that made it easy," Gettleman said of his first year in Carolina. "They accepted me and my Yankee craziness. ... The vision has to keep going."