CHARLOTTE -- On a Monday night in February 2016, Dave Gettleman was the toast of Super Bowl 50. Standing in the middle of an arena in San Jose, the lifelong scout-turned-general manager soaked in a Media Night spotlight that beamed brightly on the then 17-1 Panthers.
Just 17 months later, the foundation of that shine remains, but Gettleman is gone.
The decision by Owner/Founder Jerry Richardson to dismiss his GM a week before training camp is a shocker that raises plenty of questions. The biggest: why?
To be clear, none of the reasoning you're about to read is straight from Richardson's mouth to my ears. It's all based on my observations over the past few years.
Also, it's impossible to ignore the wealth of good Gettleman did after coming to Carolina in January 2013. During his four seasons in charge, the Panthers went 43-26-1 with three straight NFC South titles, a résumé made even more impressive by the fact he improved the team's salary cap.
But while it's easy to assume differently, most organizations aren't as black and white as the results they produce on the field. So 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.
In the months that followed, Richardson had to have been concerned about how the roster was taking shape. There was little depth on the offensive line, and a week before the draft, Gettleman stunned the entire league by rescinding the franchise tag he placed on Josh Norman.
Despite Gettleman's reasoning, replacing a Pro Bowl cornerback and the retiring Charles Tillman with rookies was an almost impossible way to defend an NFC championship. The ramifications intensified when Gettleman wasn't able to turn the money earmarked for Norman into a deal with a member of the Panthers' core.
Contract talks either stalled or never started with players in line for eventual extensions, most notably defensive tackle Kawann Short, guard Trai Turner and defensive end Mario Addison. Turner and Addison then improved their stock dramatically in 2016, which meant Richardson had to write a larger check to keep Addison. Turner, meanwhile, is still waiting for a long-term deal that could make him one of the highest-paid interior linemen in the league.
Of course, none of those reasons fully explain Monday's decision, and they don't answer why a change was made now. One presumable significant crack in the foundation began two months ago.
When Brandon Beane left for Buffalo, Gettleman lost a key member of his team who had performed many day-to-day functions of a GM, a role that allowed Gettleman to focus on roster building. In many ways, the fallout appeared similar to some of the stories that came out of Kansas City after the Chiefs parted with GM John Dorsey.
Like Dorsey, Gettleman's expertise is as a talent evaluator. Despite some misses, he batted well over .500 in the draft, and he did a tremendous job filling in pieces around the spine of a roster built by previous GM Marty Hurney. But Gettleman was a dyed-in-the-wool scout/general manager who had little experience managing people.
But if there was a final straw, it likely happened over the past few weeks.
Gettleman deserves a ton of credit for making tough decisions that many in his chair wouldn't have made. Cutting Steve Smith, while messy, ended up working out for both sides. So did the DeAngelo Williams release. And to his credit, Richardson didn't meddle. He gave his top football guy the rope to make those and a handful of other controversial calls. But no GM has unlimited rope.
Odds are Gettleman further alienated key veterans by how he handled extension requests this summer from Greg Olsen and Thomas Davis. It's not hard to imagine that Gettleman's blunt approach was irksome to Richardson, especially if it involved Davis. No player has exemplified what he wants his franchise to represent more than 13-year veteran. So when Gettleman and Davis were unable to get on the same page about how and when to get a deal done, Gettleman ran out of rope.
I've often told Gettleman I'd never want to be in his chair. NFL GMs have impossible jobs that rarely end well. On the surface, this decision seems sudden, but such is life in an unpredictable business where oftentimes things just don't work out.