On Wednesday, Carolina Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer took the podium at the NFL Scouting Combine and gave us quite a number of intriguing updates. But what stuck out the most during his 18-minute presser?
Here are the four biggest takeaways from Fitterer’s revealing media availability.
The draft strategy will be what it always was
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Carolina’s current regime, as even stated by Fitterer earlier this year, has always been about drafting the “best player available.” Free agency, which begins over a month earlier, is for filling holes and the draft is for adding the top talent possible.
Fitterer reinforced that idea on Wednesday. While he did acknowledge the team’s glaring deficiencies at quarterback and on its offensive line, passing up a cornerstone type of player for a need is not an approach they’re looking to take.
“Now, if there’s a franchise-type player sitting there and we think this is a cornerstone for us for the next ten years, we might have to just take him,” Fitterer said when asked about the possibility of trading out of the sixth overall pick, which he also confirmed as an option. “You don’t pass on a really good foundation piece for your team.”
The proof was in last year’s pudding when Carolina drafted cornerback Jaycee Horn, who they considered one of those franchise pillars, with the eighth pick. Quarterbacks Justin Fields and Mac Jones as well as offensive linemen Rashawn Slater and Alijah Vera-Tucker were, meanwhile, all left on the board.
Matt Rhule may be the odd man out on Brady Christensen
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Head coach Matt Rhule, on numerous occasions throughout the season, questioned Christensen’s ability to man the blindside due to his relatively shorter arms. That belief put Rhule on an island as, seemingly, the only person in the football world who didn’t think college football’s top left tackle from the year prior wasn’t actually a left tackle.
So, we’ll go back to another receipt on Fitterer. This one came during his exit interview following the conclusion of the regular season, when he glowed about the third-round pick’s potential at the position and shot down the ol’ arm length myth.
Fitterer then confirmed another member of the Brady Christensen Can Certainly Play Left Tackle Club on Wednesday—new offensive line coach James Campen.
“I think he can play probably three or four spots on the offensive line,” he said. “The one thing is when he went out, played left tackle this year, he did really well for us. Talking to Coach [James] Campen, our new o-line coach, he said ‘Wow, I wish this guy woulda played more. I wish we woulda seen more of him at left tackle.’”
Rhule, who interviewed off to the side with a few reporters after Fitterer’s presser, then said they “maybe should’ve played him a little bit more” at the spot when looking back on it.
Haason Reddick is probably gone
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Reddick is undoubtedly going to see himself some extra cash in a few weeks. But it probably won’t be coming from the Panthers.
While Fitterer did say talks remain alive between the front office and Reddick’s people, he sounded much more like a guy who was resided to the fact that his leading sack artist won’t be back. What do you really expect when you’re squeezing the cap and a guy with 23.5 sacks over his last 32 games is hitting the open market?
“I talked to Haason’s guys here,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of discussion really over the last couple of weeks. And I think Haason has earned the right to go out and see what he can get. He’s had two years in a row, double-digit sacks. And he’s gonna command a lot of money on the open market. And if he gets that, I’m happy for him. We just want the dialogue to be open and give us a chance and see where it goes.”
The same could go for cornerback Stephon Gilmore, to whom Fitterer had a similar sentiment.
“We have to see how that fits in. We have Donte [Jackson] that’s up as well. We made a move for CJ Henderson last year to put us in a position where we’re not like panicking and are not forcing something that’s not there. So we’ll stay in contact with him.”
If Cam Newton departs again, it won’t be handled as poorly as the first exit
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In 2020, the Panthers dropped the most impactful player in franchise history like a bad habit. Owner David Tepper publicly questioned his health at the time, the team released a false statement claiming Newton sought a trade and he was subsequently released with a weak two-minute video tribute on the way out.
But if Carolina decides to part ways with Newton again, it won’t be handled nearly the same. In fact, Fitterer said they’ve long established with Newton how the offseason procedure will go.
“One thing with Cam is when we sat down at Mr. Tepper’s house, we always said after the season—when we come close to making a decision—we’d have a discussion and we’d talk person-to-person first before we share anything,” he said.
“We’re still open to Cam,” he would later add. “But again, we want to have that conversation with him directly.”
This’ll be a 180-degree process from the franchise. Instead of dragging Cam along and giving off murky vibes, the team will at least grant him the personal time and respect to inform them of their plans ahead of free agency.