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Scott Fitterer: Not looking to unload young talent

Scott Fitterer

CHARLOTTE — Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer made a huge deal Thursday night, trading running back Christian McCaffrey to the 49ers.

But he made it clear Friday he's not presiding over a fire sale.

Fitterer said he's not interested in trading young stars such as Brian Burns, Derrick Brown, and others, though his phone has been ringing enough with opportunities to do so. He said that barring an "astronomical" return, he didn't anticipate moving them before the Nov. 1 trade deadline.

"Philosophically, we always listen. We have gotten calls. We've said no to all of them," Fitterer said Friday. "I think there's certain players on this team; we like the really young core of our team. We're building. This isn't a situation where we're trying to sell. We're trying to add players to this already really good young mix.

"Guys like Burns, guys like Brown, we always listen. I want those guys here. These are guys that we win with moving forward."

For Fitterer, dealing McCaffrey (it's still pending a physical) was about getting the most for a commodity multiple teams were interested in, and rebuilding their stock of draft picks.

The Panthers had just four picks in 2023 and five in 2024 when they boarded the plane home from Los Angeles last week, but after moving Robbie Anderson and McCaffrey, they now have seven each year.

With all seven of next year's picks in the first five rounds, it offers an opportunity to help build.

Owner David Tepper said recently that he thought the team needed to be smart with the "limited resources" in terms of picks and salary cap room, and Fitterer said their recent conversations aligned with that.

"Yeah, we've had some good talks about what we want to do," Fitterer said. "How we want to build this. Obviously, we want to build through the draft. We'll supplement through free agency and some trades. Acquiring some picks was important to help get to the blueprint, basically, that we have in place moving forward. . . .

"I think having multiple draft picks just gives you more shots at it. You're always going to miss on some guys. Just gives you a better chance to hit on guys all throughout the draft. The more shots we have, the better it is. That's kind of our philosophy. Like I say, build through the draft. Obviously, that's our currency. That's what's valuable to us."

And it's clear that the work will include finding some stability at quarterback and more skill position talent.

Fitterer mentioned the addition of Xavier Woods to a secondary that also featured Jaycee Horn and Jeremy Chinn as a key to what they want to build with, along with the offseason overhaul of the offensive line, which has shown progress this year.

Having been in the Seattle front office when they drafted Russell Wilson and won a Super Bowl two years later, Fitterer has long talked about putting a team together that can compete quickly once they find the right answer at quarterback.

"That hasn't changed," Fitterer said Friday. "I think where our defense is; there's a lot of good young pieces on the defensive line. Adding Jaycee, having Chinn back there, adding Woods to the group. There's a lot on defense to build with.

"We've rebuilt the offensive line, which is the most important thing when you're bringing in a young quarterback. We have DJ Moore. We've got some other young receivers that are developing right now. So that hasn't changed. We're still building and moving forward, so we can drop that quarterback in and go."

Still, moving McCaffrey was difficult for the general manager, knowing that kind of production is hard to replace. McCaffrey was fourth in the league in yards from scrimmage through the season's first six weeks.

But as multiple teams were calling with legitimate proposals, Fitterer focused on maximizing the return in next year's draft, when there were offers involving more future picks on the table. He knows this makes it harder in the immediate timeline, and said that after talking to interim coach Steve Wilks last night, they agree on the approach.

"We do what's best for the organization," Fitterer said. "It's not about just one guy. It's not about me. It's about not about (Steve) Wilks. We're doing what's best for the organization long term. What I would say is, expectations haven't changed. We're going out to compete every day. Like I said, we could always lose someone to an injury, to a trade, whatever may be. That doesn't change our focus on winning and going out and competing. That's what I would say. Let it play out on the field. . . .

"Our goal every game is to go out and win. We'll let it play out on the field. That doesn't change our mindset."

Check out the best photos from Thursday's practice as the Panthers prepare to take on the Buccaneers this weekend.

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