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Friday, March 14, 2014
Patient Panthers really haven't lost anything

By David Newton

Dave Gettleman
GM Dave Gettleman's methodical approach to free agency has some fans panicking that the Panthers are getting left behind.
Some of you in Carolina Pantherland are in a state of panic this morning. OK, a lot of you are.

You are freaking out that your team dumped all-time leading receiver Steve Smith and got nothing in return. Losing free safety Mike Mitchell (Steelers), wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. (Cardinals), wide receiver Domenik Hixon (Bears) and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn (Vikings) to other teams makes it feel worse.

Then you see Cincinnati offensive tackle Anthony Collins pick Tampa Bay over Carolina at a big need position. You see New York Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks visiting Indianapolis and wonder if general manager Dave Gettleman & Co. will get a shot at him.

The re-signing of backup quarterback Derek Anderson to a two-year deal hasn't eased your pain.

Bye-bye, Super Bowl hopes. First to worst in the NFC South.

I've read all the emails and complaints. I visited with some of you at a small rally protesting the release of Smith outside Bank of America Stadium. I know what you're thinking. You've lost complete faith in the organization. You're ready to tar and feather Gettleman.

Former Carolina lineman Frank Garcia, now the host of a local radio show, got into it with me on Twitter on Thursday night. He said this doesn't have the feel of a team trying to get better, trying to compete for a championship.

So I asked if this felt like a team trying to compete for a Super Bowl three days into free agency a year ago. I asked if the Panthers felt like a team trying to win a Super Bowl in March of 1996, when he was a player.

He agreed not.

The '96 team, if you've forgotten, reached the NFC Championship. And last year's team, which you shouldn't have forgotten yet, went 12-4.

Feel better now?

The question that needs to be asked is this: What have the Panthers lost beyond the faith of many of their fans?

Mitchell played a big role in the defense ranking No. 2 in 2013, but before then he'd done nothing to warrant any team getting upset over losing him. It's why Gettleman got him for a bargain.

Did you really want the team investing $25 million over five years for him?

Munnerlyn had a nice career at Carolina, but most agree the biggest weakness last season was the secondary -- specifically the corners. Was he worth $14.25 million over three years?

Ginn was coming off a season in which he caught two passes -- two -- for San Francisco when the Panthers signed him to a one-year deal. Was he worth a three-year investment?

And then there's Smith. While his release was a public relations disaster (though I don't agree he would have been a locker room distraction), he will be 35 in May and even he admitted he's not a No. 1 receiver anymore.

That means he's not worth $7 million on the cap this season.

While the team may have been better off adding another veteran receiver to let Smith move to the slot and then drafting yet another in the first or second round, the situation isn't that dire.

Remember, as a rookie in 2001 Smith caught 10 passes. Then-coach George Seifert thought he was nothing more than a great kick returner who could run the occasional end around.

Two years later, Smith caught 88 passes for 1,110 yards, and became a star. Then he became a local legend.

And the Panthers got him in the third round.

So for all the panic out there, remember it's just March. Consider, if Gettleman really wanted Smith and those that went elsewhere, he probably could have found a way to keep them.

He was prepared to lose most of them.

When you begin the offseason with 21 unrestricted free agents, you are going to lose a lot of them.

The tortoise sometimes wins the race.

What the Panthers are doing in free agency -- Smith's release aside -- is no different than a year ago. If they can get Nicks for a reasonable price they will, but they'll see what others are offering before mortgaging the farm.

And don't lose sight of the fact Nicks caught only 47 passes last season, or that he's never had a season with more than 79 catches.

Don't worry. Marvin McNutt won't be Cam Newton's No. 1 target this season. Gettleman is a football guy who knows talent. Based on what he did with the New York Giants and in one season at Carolina, he does a good job of finding the so-called diamonds in the rough.

He proved a year ago to be savvy in the draft, as well.

As mentioned at the beginning of free agency, patience.

The Panthers won't sign a lot of big names to big contracts like NFC South rival Tampa Bay has done, but the Buccaneers are coming off a 4-12 season and have a new coach. They needed to swing for the fences a few times.

So while the state of panic in Pantherland is understandable, it's a bit premature.

Last time I looked, they don't play the Super Bowl in March.