ORLANDO – In making his plan a reality, general manager Dave Gettleman has had to endure a restrictive cap situation and difficult personnel decisions.
But the plan is firmly in place. And it won't change.
"Our plan is to put us in a position so I won't stand up at a press conference and say, 'We are in cap jail,'" Gettleman said at the NFL Annual Meeting at the Ritz-Carlton. "(Head coach) Ron (Rivera) isn't going to be in a position where he put four years into a player and now he's going to lose him. That's what we are trying to get to and we will."
One of the players the Panthers have no intention of losing is quarterback Cam Newton, who is entering his fourth season.
When asked if the Panthers will use the fifth-year club option to keep Newton under contract at least through 2015, Gettleman said, "Yes, the short answer is yes." He later affirmed his belief that Newton is the team's franchise quarterback and added that he'll be a Panther for a long time.
Newton is a young star playing the game's most important position, but his future isn't the only one Gettleman has in mind as he navigates the 2014 offseason.
"The bottom line is, when we draft and the coaches develop the player and he's a four or five-year guy, we don't want to look at each other and say, 'I can't believe we can't sign this guy,'" Gettleman said. "It's about Cam, it's about Luke (Kuechly), it's about the two young defensive tackles (Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short) if they keep developing. It's about any of them."
So as free agency continues, the Panthers will keep the future in mind as they spend sensibly.
The salary cap increased from $123 million to $133 million, but that hasn't alleviated Carolina's well-documented cap concerns. And, as Gettleman pointed out, the Panthers need to have extra cap room available to account for in-season acquisitions – like guard Travelle Wharton was in 2013.
Gettleman compared the situation to a credit card conundrum.
"You've maxed out your credit card, you've paid part of it down and then all of the sudden you get a bonus. What are you going to do? What's the smart thing to do?" Gettleman said. "The smart thing is to pay it off, not max it out again."
That said, the Panthers needed to address some needs in free agency, especially since six contributors from last year's team have signed elsewhere as unrestricted free agents.
The additions – wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery, safety Roman Harper and cornerback Antoine Cason, to name a few – haven't been flashy, but they fit.
"I know that every decision I make is a message being sent to the locker room. That's impactful. Every decision Ron makes he is sending a message to the locker room. These are impactful decisions. We have to give them full consideration," Gettleman said.
"Am I pleased? Yes, very frankly. I am pleased with the progress we have made to this point. The people we bring in are the types of players that Ron is looking for."