CHARLOTTE – Less than 48 hours after the disappointment of the Super Bowl, general manager Dave Gettleman and head coach Ron Rivera turned the page toward what it will take to get back.
Before doing so, both took a moment to reflect on the special season that was.
"I can't begin to tell you how proud I am," Gettleman said. "For this team to be thought of as we were all spring, all summer, and then Kelvin (Benjamin) goes down - to be where we are now, I couldn't be prouder.
"Ron and his staff and his players deserve all the plaudits, they truly do. They persevered, and they just wouldn't be denied until Sunday. For that, they should be applauded without hesitation, without any 'buts.' What we've accomplished as a group, as an organization, is very unique."
How unique? Rivera, who has been in the NFL for the large majority of the past three decades – initially as a player - can't get over the chemistry this Panthers unit possessed.
"I'd say it's right at the top – I really do mean that. This is a group of young men who came together as a football team and truly cared about each other," Rivera said. "But I will say this: That locker room will never be the same. I'm very proud and honored to say I was head coach of the 2015 Carolina Panthers. It will not be the same group. There will be guys who move on, so 2016 will look different.
"I was in Chicago with the '85 team that went to the Super Bowl, and the '86 team was better statistically but we didn't win because we didn't have that same chemistry in the locker room. Things are going to change."
That's a reality of life in the NFL, but it doesn't mean of course that the 2016 Panthers are doomed to fall short of the 2015 version on the field. Rivera set the agenda for next season at the final team meeting Tuesday.
"I congratulated the guys today and talked about the accomplishments we had, and then I started talking about going forward," Rivera said. "The truth of the matter is that you would love to be in position that Denver is right now, celebrating, but we're not. So going forward, there's 30 teams behind us and one in front of us. That's our goal – if you want to be the champs, beat the champs.
"We've got to start planning and mapping and getting ready for next season, which we have. The coaches will finish their meetings today with players, I'll get an opportunity to meet with a select few guys, and then as far as we're concerned we're onto the 2016 football season."
Gettleman said planning for the 2016 NFL Draft will officially begin Thursday, but actually it's already underway. So is an in-depth evaluation of the current roster and how those findings will impact next season's roster.
Gettleman isn't at a point where he could possibly talk about specific needs for the roster next season, though he did say coming off an offseason in which the Panthers successfully inked Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly and other key cogs to long-terms deals, the team is "not in bad shape" in terms of the salary cap.
"Roster building is a 12-month process," Gettleman said. "You can't sit here on your laurels because you went to the Super Bowl and just think you're going to go back again.
"We've been working the whole time. Are we a little bit behind? Yeah, of course we are. But we've hit the ground running. The next two days will be housecleaning type of things, and then Thursday the draft begins."