Scott Fitterer has risk-taking mentality needed to improve Carolina Panthers

Seattle Seahawks/AP Photos

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A year ago, the Seattle Seahawks sent two first-round picks, a third-round pick and safety Bradley McDougald to the New York Jets for safety Jamal Adams and a 2022 fourth-round pick in an attempt to make a Super Bowl run.

New Carolina Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer didn’t make the final decision on that as the Seahawks vice president of football operations, but he was part of the decision just as he has been in other bold moves the Seahawks have taken to improve the roster.

“He’s not afraid to take some risks," former Panthers linebacker Dan Morgan said.

Morgan knows. He spent eight years working closely with Fitterer in the scouting department with the Seattle Seahawks before moving to his present position as director of player personnel for the Buffalo Bills.

His family has vacationed with Fitterer and his family, so he knows him inside and out.

So when asked if the 47-year-old Fitterer will be the type of general manager to make a run at Deshaun Watson should the Houston Texans' quarterback be available for trade, as is being highly speculated, Morgan didn’t hesitate.

“He’s always going to explore every opportunity," Morgan said. “That’s what good GMs do. They explore every opportunity to make the team better. I don’t think he’ll be any different."

Jim Nagy, who worked with Fitterer in Seattle before becoming executive director of the Senior Bowl last year, agreed.

“If you just look at his background in Seattle, look how aggressive [general manager] John Schneider has been," Nagy said. “The mantra in Seattle is to be in every single deal."

“You might not make every deal, but you want to be a part of every deal."

Neither is suggesting Fitterer will throw caution to the wind to get Watson, who won the 2016 national championship at Clemson, which is only a few hours from Charlotte. Seattle’s former vice president of football operations won’t have much ammunition, with an estimated $14 million in cap space and few stars outside of running back Christian McCaffrey to pair with the eighth pick in the upcoming draft.

Morgan and Nagy are just saying Fitterer will bring the aggressive approach to improving the roster that Seattle took this past year when it gave up safety Bradley McDougald, two first-round picks (2021, 2022) and a third-round pick (2021) to trade for New York Jets safety Jamal Adams and a 2022 fourth-round pick.

Fitterer was a part of that process with Schneider and coach Pete Carroll, just as he was with other deals, such as the 2019 trade with the Houston Texans to bring defensive end Jadeveon Clowney to Seattle.

“The Seattle process is such a collaborative effort," said Nagy, using the word (collaborative) that was so important to Carolina coach Matt Rhule in the GM search. “Scott’s gonna want to build through the draft, but there’s some guys in the league that are only connected to certain other GMs."

“The good news for the Panthers is Scott is so well-connected throughout the league, they’re going to be open to 31 other teams and involved in a lot of free-agency deals."

To-do list

Fitterer inherits an initial to-do list that includes settling the quarterback position that Teddy Bridgewater didn’t nail down this past season, re-signing right tackle Taylor Moton, finding a left tackle and likely moving on from injury-plagued defensive tackle Kawann Short to clear $14.5 million in cap space.

Testing the waters for Watson, 25, should be his priority simply because he could be an immediate game-changer for a team that wants to win now.

It’s not totally unrealistic despite the limited cap space. Watson’s 2021 cap hit is only $15.94 million, so the Panthers potentially could carry that and Bridgewater’s $23 million hit if Bridgewater isn’t a part of a deal and they moved on from Short and/or made McCaffrey part of the deal.

That Carolina is bringing in Sean Ryan as its new quarterback coach, according to league sources, also raises eyebrows. Ryan was Watson’s quarterback coach in Houston in 2017 and 2018 before moving on to the Lions.

If Fitterer can’t get Watson, the priority becomes finding a franchise quarterback through the draft the way he helped identify Russell Wilson for Seattle in 2012 as a third-round pick.

He could have several options at No. 8, with Ohio State’s Justin Fields, BYU’s Zach Wilson and North Dakota State’s Trey Lance falling behind Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, who is expected to go to Jacksonville at No. 1.

He’ll get an up-close look at Alabama’s Mac Jones, fresh off winning the national title, and Florida’s Kyle Trask with the Panthers coaching at the Senior Bowl next week in Mobile, Alabama.

That Fitterer is a former college quarterback (UCLA, LSU) gives him some advantages in evaluating the position, but his assessment skills go well beyond that.

“Scott is very talented and his strengths are many," Schneider said. “He is a great evaluator of people, an excellent communicator and a tremendous person."

Morgan noted Fitterer, who had been with Seattle since 2001, can walk into almost any college in the country and be well-received because of his connections and personality.

“You can rely on certain people to give you the right information," he said. “He’s definitely got that. He’s just good at what he does."

Fitterer was a big part of drafting Seattle’s “Legion of Boom" secondary -- Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas -- that helped the Seahawks win the Super Bowl after the 2013 season. He was also a big part of finding wide receiver Doug Baldwin as an undrafted free agent in 2011.

“He’s just got a good eye for talent, whether it’s an undrafted free agent or a first-rounder," Morgan said. “He’s just a good evaluator."

Nagy agreed, adding Fitterer was a “calming influence" in the draft room.

“Scott’s coming from a place where the head coach and GM relationship was about as good as it gets in the league," he said. “I’m sure he’s going to try to create something pretty similar with Matt. I just see him as a great guy to work with Matt Rhule. That’s a nice leadership combo."

Instant connection

The Panthers were double-digit interviews into their general manager search when Nagy reached out to good friend Patrick Stewart, Carolina’s director of player personnel, and suggested Fitterer.

A virtual interview was conducted two Sundays ago, followed by an in-person interview three days later. Fitterer was hired the next day.

“I told Pat, ‘Fit’s a great guy. I’m sure you don’t know him well, but he’ll be a great fit,’" Nagy said. “That’s a great group moving forward on the football side.’’

Morgan had a similar connection with Fitterer when he arrived in Seattle in 2010. The two quickly became friends.

“He’s good on the grill," Morgan said of Fitterer. “He’s the guy that brings out all the stuff for a bonfire. And yeah, we were out shooting fireworks on the beach."

“He’s not afraid to take some risks, on or off the field."