CHARLOTTE – To build a team you need a solid foundation. Since becoming the Panthers' general manager after the 2012 season, Dave Gettleman has had time to rectify the team's salary cap situation and identify his core players. The 2015 offseason was about keeping that core intact.
In early March, tight end Greg Olsen signed a three-year extension. In early June, quarterback Cam Newton signed a five-year extension. A couple weeks later, linebacker Thomas Davis signed a two-year extension.
"You have a plan in your head about how you'd like to go about building a team and maintaining that team," Gettleman said. "In this era of the salary cap, it's not easy. But you identify the guys that you really want to be around and to continue the culture."
In a quarterback-driven league, Newton's extension was critical. At 26 years old, he's entering the prime of his career. And despite being the first player in NFL history to have 10,000 passing yards and 2,000 rushing yards in his first four seasons, there's still plenty of room to grow and improve.
Olsen, 30, has become Newton's most dependable target. He holds the franchise single-season records for catches (84) and receiving yards (1,008) by a tight end and is a capable blocker, which keeps him on the field at all times.
Davis, 32, is the emotional leader of the defense and has emerged as one of the best outside linebackers in the league. The athletically gifted and physically stout three-down linebacker has posted at least 100 tackles in each of the last three seasons.
"It was important for us to get those extensions done on a number of different levels," Gettleman said, "I'm thrilled to sign Cam, to sign Greg, to sign TD, because it sends messages."
The initial, obvious message is that production is paramount. Newton, Olsen and Davis delivered, and the front office made it clear their contributions are valued.
But there is another message being sent with these extensions.
"We are making sure we make a commitment to the core guys and the other players around them see that," head coach Ron Rivera said.
When three respected team leaders receive extensions, it makes a statement to the entire locker room.
"Guys see it," Olsen said. "It says to the players that there is a right way you are expected to carry yourself and act around here. There's a right way they expect you to prepare and play."
Newton, Olsen and Davis are three of the hardest workers on the team. Their mental and physical preparation sets the standard. Their involvement in the community speaks volumes as well.
It's all part of the culture Gettleman and Rivera are so determined to maintain.
"We are trying to reward the guys that do things the right way," Rivera said. "Unfortunately, sometimes you have to let guys go that have good years left. It's hard in this era. But you want to reward those core guys as much as possible."
The players who are next in line for extensions know what to expect. They know what the front office looks for in its long-term core. Embrace the culture and you'll be embraced.
"If you do that, there's a good chance of you getting rewarded and having stability with the organization," Olsen said. "That message has been sent pretty loud and clear."