Dave Gettleman's Tenure as Carolina Panthers General Manager Didn't Warrant a Firing

Dave Gettleman wasn't perfect as a general manager, but he did more than enough to keep his job.

In a bizarre announcement -- yet still somehow fitting among previous front office shakeups this offseason -- the Carolina Panthers parted ways with general manager Dave Gettleman.

Gettleman is the second general manager, along with the Kansas City Chiefs’ John Dorsey, to be fired in the dead of the NFL offseason -- a time when most major general manager duties have been completed for the upcoming season. Like with the Chiefs, the Panthers made this move after allowing their perceived next-in-line GM candidate to leave for another job during the offseason.

Just as we don’t typically see general manager firings in June when Dorsey was let go, we less often see them in July. The Panthers will report to training camp in just over a week.

To this point, there’s no concrete reasoning for why Gettleman was let go. In a statement released by the team, the closest we get is this line from owner Jerry Richardson: “While the timing of this decision is not ideal, a change is needed.”

Gettleman’s Tenure

When Gettleman took over the Panthers in 2013, they had gone a combined 15-33 in the previous three seasons. Two of those seasons came with Cam Newton at quarterback. But while Carolina was 7-9 in Marty Hurney’s final year on the job, the team was a little better than that record would indicate.

The 2012 Panthers were ninth in the league by our nERD metric, which measures how a team would perform against a league average opponent on a neutral field. That was thanks to one of the better offenses in the league, one that ranked seventh by Adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP) per play and a league average defense, 18th by Adjusted Defensive NEP per play.

Still, there was work that needed to be done on the roster, and the team was in cap hell. With the likes of Jordan Gross, Charles Johnson, DeAngelo Williams, and Chris Gamble clogging the top of Carolina’s cap. Gettleman worked the roster to clear cap space with cuts of overpaid veterans like Gamble and linebacker Jon Beason.

In Gettleman’s first year on the job, the Panthers went 12-4, won the NFC South, and ranked fourth in nERD. Carolina won just seven games the following year, but they still won the division. In 2015, the team won 15 games, went to the Super Bowl, and their quarterback won NFL MVP. However, the bottom dropped out in 2016 and the Panthers won only six games.

In all, here’s Gettleman’s tenure with the team.

Year nERD (rk) Record Season Result
2012* 4.40 (7) 7-9 2nd NFC South
2013 6.88 (4) 12-4 Won Division
2014 0.49 (16) 7-9-1 Won Division
2015 9.26 (3) 15-1 Won Division / SB Appearance
2016 -1.54 (22) 6-10 4th NFC South


It’s hard to figure this firing is performance based. There were three division titles, one Super Bowl appearance, and in two of Gettleman’s four seasons at the helm, the Panthers were a top-four team in the league.

Tough Cuts

That brings us to one of the floated around reasons for Gettleman’s departure -- his relationship with players.

During Gettleman’s quest to clear cap space, he’s had a few very public falling outs with some of the team’s most beloved veterans. It started with the release of Beason in his first offseason. Then it was Steve Smith the next year. That was followed by the release of DeAngelo Williams. Then of course last season the Panthers unexpectedly rescinded the franchise tag from Josh Norman.

Considering the reaction on Twitter from Norman...

...then Smith...

...then Williams…’s not hard to see Gettleman was not well liked from the stance he took on those players. Now with veterans like Thomas Davis and Greg Olsen set for new deals and an apparent hard-line stance from Gettleman on extension requests, some of that ill-will could be spreading to current players on the roster.

This reasoning has merit, but would be a silly reason to let an otherwise good general manager go. The way in which some of these divorces went down isn’t ideal, but in a vacuum from the business side, Gettleman was right in each instance. Smith was a 34-year-old receiver who had seen his production drop to a three-year low in his final season with Carolina. Williams was 31 and played in just six games during his last season with the Panthers, and talks broke down with Norman after it was clear there would be no long-term deal reached.

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport tweeted some tension was still in place between Richardson and Gettleman because of the Norman talks last year. But without the star corner, the Panthers defense did not take much of a step back. Carolina still finished eighth against the pass by Adjusted Defensive NEP per play in 2016 after their young cornerbacks caught on in the latter part of the year. That’s below the No. 2 ranking the Panthers had in 2015, but for all that was made of losing Norman, that’s not a huge drop-off in performance.

The newcomers did well. Per Sports Info Solutions charting from Football Outsiders, 2016 second-round pick James Bradberry had the 13th-best yards allowed per pass (5.8) among 82 cornerbacks targeted 40 or more times last season. That was the best among rookie cornerbacks, just ahead of Jalen Ramsey (6.2), who many believe is a star in the making.

Making tough roster decisions is an integral part of a general manager’s job. If he’s going to be penalized for making those types of moves -- and in all three of these cases, putting the team in a better position to win -- then what’s the point in trying to improve the team?

Moving Forward

This isn’t to say Gettleman’s reign in Carolina has been perfect. The drafting of Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess has gone so poorly, Gettleman needed to use this past draft to reshape the type of offense the team will run by selecting Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel. There’s still holes across the offensive line, and Matt Kalil was given $55 million just three months ago. But no general manager in the league has a perfect tenure, and the success Gettleman has shown during his four years suggests little to warrant a firing. Even Ryan Grigson got five years as the general manager of the Indianapolis Colts.

Now the Panthers will have to look for a new general manager just as training camps are getting set to open around the league. It might not be easy to fill the role since most of the top prospects have already taken jobs thanks to the already high rate of front office turnover this season. It’s going to be even harder to find someone who can match the upside Gettleman brought to the position.

None of this is ideal for either party involved, and it’s likely we’ve yet to scratch the surface on the full story. And perhaps like with other Gettleman releases over the years, it’s fair to wonder if this one could be messy.