The Panthers surprised the football world by firing general manager Dave Gettleman on Monday, removing the front office’s primary decision-maker just nine days before training camp is set to begin. From the outside, the move seems baffling, if only given the timing. Front-office personnel changes usually happen in December and January. Even in an offseason in which teams have made late GM swaps — Washington’s Scot McCloughan, Buffalo’s Doug Whaley, and Kansas City’s John Dorsey have all been fired since March — Carolina’s abrupt shakeup seems bizarre.
In a statement, Panthers owner Jerry Richardson conceded that “the timing of this decision is not ideal.” That’s underselling it. As the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport pointed out on Twitter, many Panthers employees are on vacation. Beyond that, two people who would’ve been candidates to fill the interim position both recently left the team. Longtime Panthers president Danny Morrison resigned in February, while the Bills hired Brandon Beane away from Carolina in May.
The other perplexing part of this is that Gettleman had a mostly successful run as the Panthers GM. He inherited a cap-challenged team after being hired from the Giants in 2013: His predecessor, Marty Hurney, handed out some bloated contracts, giving DeAngelo Williams a five-year, $43 million deal in 2011 and offering Jonathan Stewart a five-year, $36.5 million deal in 2012. Within relatively short order, Gettleman salvaged the Panthers’ cap, drafted standout contributors like Star Lotulelei, Kawann Short, and Kelvin Benjamin, and helped construct a roster that won three division titles in four years. How quickly things change. A year and a half after the Panthers made a run at going 16–0, Gettleman is out of a job.
The explanation may have something to do with Gettleman’s managerial acumen (or lack thereof). On the Panthers website, Bill Voth wrote that “Gettleman was a dyed-in-the-wool scout/general manager who had little experience managing people.” Voth also made the case that “what seems like a sudden, stunning decision is something that truly started spreading roots shortly after the Panthers returned from their Super Bowl loss to the Broncos.” Richardson’s trust in Gettleman was reportedly shaken when the GM let cornerback Josh Norman, the only reigning All-Pro to ever hit free agency, leave for Washington. Gettleman has been hesitant to sign guys to lavish deals, leading to tense negotiations with Norman and Short and the franchise’s bitter separation from legendary receiver Steve Smith Sr. That stance cost Gettleman the locker room, and ownership followed suit.
With Gettleman out, it’s unclear who will decide whether Carolina should extend the contracts of tight end Greg Olsen and linebacker Thomas Davis. Richardson and Davis maintain an “unusually close relationship,” per the Charlotte Observer, and it’s fair to wonder whether the GM’s willingness to let veterans walk played a role in the team deciding to fire him now.
Whatever the reason, the team that Gettleman constructed will report to Wofford College next week, but Gettleman himself won’t. Perhaps Norman can suggest a good real estate agent.