Panthers GM On Cam Newton, Free Agency

After a highly successful first season as general manager of the Carolina Panthers in which his team by improved five wins and won the NFC South, Dave Gettleman now has the unenviable task of getting a handle on 21 unrestricted free agents. The franchise cornerstones on offense and defense — quarterback Cam Newton and linebacker Luke Kuechly — are not among that group, but both are nearing hefty second contracts. Defensive end Greg Hardy totaled 26 sacks the past two seasons and will be a prime candidate for the franchise tag after his four-year rookie deal expired. Jonathan Jones of the Charlotte Observer sat down with Gettleman at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., for an hour-long interview to glean insight on the future of this young, talented team.

On how impressed he is with Newton‘s maturity:

“Just step back and put yourself in his shoes: first pick of the draft, you’re seen as the savior, in athletics you’ve had very few failures and then you walk into the NFL, 2-14, coming out of the lockout with no OTAs (Organized Team Activities) with no nothing. The way he accepted leadership, the way he grew, you guys wrote about how he was letting his teammates help him, his improvement in reading the field and going through his progressions.”

On what he wants to do with Hardy:

“He’s part of the puzzle.”

On what life will be like without Steve Smith:

“Steve has just had a tremendous career. He’s 34. He’s exceeded the normal career of any wide receiver and he should be very proud of what he’s accomplished and he’s been a great Carolina Panther. Who knows? You don’t know when he’s going to be done.”

On head coach Ron Rivera being in the final year of his contract:

“Well again, to answer your question, I said in the press conference, ‘I’ve got ultimate confidence in him.’ And that’s the exact quote. And I still do. So …”

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