Panthers GM Gettleman looking to improve team speed in offseason

Panthers rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin (left) finished the season with more than 1,000 yards receiving and nine touchdowns.

Kirby Lee/Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman, who just completed his second year with the team, rarely meets with the media. On Tuesday, he did just that, addressing a wide variety of topics ranging from this year’s free agency crop to quarterback Cam Newton’s contract situation:

Gettleman and head coach Ron Rivera, who spoke before Gettleman did, each acknowledged that the team is slow and needs to gain speed across the board, especially at wide receiver.

"Ron and I have talked the last couple days, and we’d like to get faster," Gettleman said. "We need more speed, we know that. We’re not silly. We’re not going to miss the obvious. You want to upgrade every position, everywhere. If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse."

Statements like that don’t bode well for peripheral players like receiver and punt returner Brenton Bersin, who had a tough season, as did veteran safety Roman Harper. Both have severe speed issues and could be elsewhere come August for training camp.

One aspect that has been guaranteed for the Panthers over the last 12 years or so is that they rarely, if ever, sign high-priced free agents. Last year was no exception, though Gettleman said he warned the media of such things because of the horrific salary cap situation the team was in.

To fill roster spots, Carolina basically had to get the bargain-basement players, most of whom had little quality.

"I told you guys last year at the post-season presser that we were going to struggle and it was economic-driven," he said. "I told you guys we have to get out of this situation, and we are in a better place right now than we were a year ago.

"Last year, we were shopping in the Dollar Store. This year, we may be able to move up in class a little bit."

So does that mean the Panthers will finally start signing some name players?

"I said we’re going to move up in class," Gettleman said. "I didn’t say we’re going to go out and spend big money on a player. … We’re not going to Tiffany’s, I’ll tell you that."

One major difference between Gettleman and the general managers that preceded him at Carolina is that he keeps his distance from the players. He understands, unlike the others did, that the NFL is cutthroat and one has to keep perspective on what it takes to get better.

Gettleman showed that by showing fan favorites like linebacker Jon Beason, wide receiver Steve Smith and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn the door because he didn’t believe they were worth the money they were getting paid and that he could improve at their position. Conversely, Marty Hurney, who put Carolina in salary cap hell by handing outlandish contracts to many players, viewed and treated the players as family.

Gettleman is changing that thought process, and rightly so.

"I learned a long time ago, especially doing the team evaluation, if you’re emotional about your decision, you’re going to really do something stupid," he said. "Nobody’s getting a free pass."

That means players like the team’s all-time leading rusher DeAngelo Williams may likely be cut. Williams is on the wrong side of 30, played in just six games this season and is slated to make $6 million, all of it guaranteed, courtesy of Hurney.

When asked about whether or not he regretted cutting Smith, Gettleman didn’t hesitate one second.

"No, I don’t regret the decision," he said. "I think it was a win-win (for the team and Smith)."

The Panthers exercised a fifth-year option on the rookie contract of Cam Newton, which mean he’ll get a substantial pay raise next season in the neighborhood of $14.6 million.

But what about going forward after next season?

"I’m not going to talk about contracts," Gettleman said.

Even if the Panthers don’t re-sign Newton to a long-term contract extension, they can still franchise tag him. When asked if Newton was a quarterback that a team can build around, there wasn’t a seven-second pregnant pause like Gettleman gave before last season before answering yes.

But he knows Newton, who had the worst season of his four-year career, has to vastly improve throwing the ball and become more consistent.

"He told you himself after the Arizona game that he needs to improve his mechanics," Gettleman said. "He said that to you guys. It’s a building process. Everybody wants a player to be great yesterday. It doesn’t work that way with everybody. It doesn’t work that way with anybody. It takes time."

The question is how much time are the Panthers willing to give Newton to try and improve.