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Carolina Panthers

Gettleman: Window for winning, as always, is now


PHOENIX – In this desert paradise that is hosting the NFL Annual Meeting, top brass from around the league can comfortably keep their windows open morning, noon and night.

But back home, back in the reality that is managing an NFL team on a day-to-day basis, windows don't remain open nearly as long, or so popular sentiment goes. It's trendy to talk about an NFL team's "window" for winning it all, with analysts essentially looking at how long a team's elite pieces will be elite and surmising how long a Super Bowl title is feasible for the group.

Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman doesn't do windows.

"Really and truly, every year my butt is on the line. As is Ron's," Gettleman said in reference to the task charged to him and head coach Ron Rivera. "Our goal is to win, and it's to win now. I like my job. I'm having fun. I'd like to keep it.

"Every decision that ultimately rests on my head is made with making us the best team we can be now and into the future. That's what I'm trying to do."

About the only time patience is practiced in the NFL is when a new regime takes over, a grace period granted Rivera as a rookie head coach inheriting a team in 2011 coming off a 2-14 season. Rivera's second season, however, brought questions about whether he'd live to see a third, which he did with a new general manager in tow.

Rivera survived and in fact thrived with his new personnel partner, starting the 2013 season 1-3 but from that point steaming to three consecutive NFC South championships and a Super Bowl appearance. But in a league where you're only as good as your last game, Rivera and Gettleman are now pushing hard to get back to their winning ways after an unexpected 6-10 campaign.

"There were a lot of tough things, a lot of things that went on that just seemed one after the other to cave in on us," Rivera said during an NFL Network interview at the annual meeting.

Rivera will be asked more questions about trying to bounce back in 2017 at Wednesday's NFC Head Coaches Breakfast, but there isn't a pertinent question that will be asked that he and Gettleman haven't asked themselves 10 times over already. This is prime time on the NFL calendar for roster building, and the Panthers have responded aggressively to last year's disappointments with an active offseason.

"We filled in some blanks in free agency," Gettleman said last week in Charlotte before arriving in Arizona. "I was very pleased with how it went."

In a flurry of activity never seen in franchise history, the Panthers signed four players on the first full day of free agency earlier this month, including two former Pro Bowlers in offensive tackle Matt Kalil and safety Mike Adams. The next day, they brought back a legend in defensive end Julius Peppers and a bulldog in nickel cornerback Captain Munnerlyn.

Before reuniting with Peppers and before free agency started, the Panthers re-signed three of their own defensive ends in Mario Addison, Wes Horton and Charles Johnson, setting them up to trade former second-round pick Kony Ealy to the New England Patriots. That transaction, which inched the Panthers up from the eighth choice in the third round of next month's NFL Draft to the final selection of the second round, puts a point on Gettleman's claim that it's about doing what it takes to win.

"To you guys, eight spots doesn't seem like much, but to me it's gold. That's why we made the decision," Gettleman said. "It's a heavy draft, and it was an opportunity for us to move up."

Now mind you, Gettleman and the Panthers aren't about winning at all costs. They work hard to make sure the players they sign and draft are fits for the franchise, from a scheme standpoint but also from a character standpoint. And as excited as Gettleman is about the talent in this year's draft class, all eight of Carolina's picks – and maybe even the No. 8 overall pick – won't be fully focused on winning in 2017.

"There's going to be a number of good players there. That's where you get into the long-term, short-term stuff – who's going to help us right now as opposed to the guy that is gifted but maybe isn't 100 percent ready to step onto the field," Gettleman said. "We're going to take the best player that we feel can help get us to the promised land."

The promised land, of course, is the Super Bowl, a pigskin paradise promised to no one. A lot of things have to break your way to win it all in such a competitive league, but Gettleman is driven to make his own breaks, driven to not be in possession of a top-10 draft pick again next year.

"We're sitting at eight, which I'm not happy about," Gettleman said. "We've got to do anything that we can do to get better."

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