GM Scott Fitterer thinks Panthers' roster is in a better place 

Scott Fitterer

CHARLOTTE — Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer talked a lot about doors Friday.

Doors still open for guys in the coming weeks. The revolving door of free agents which keeps bringing new faces in. The potential for a significant contributor walking in the door, with the sixth pick in the draft or otherwise.

But mostly, he thinks the Panthers have a better shot to climb the stairs from the basement of the NFC South and contend in the division based on the moves they've made in the last month.

They didn't deal for a high-profile quarterback and finding an answer there remains a priority, but they did add nine outside free agents, extended one of their top players in DJ Moore, and brought back free agent cornerback Donte Jackson.

The work isn't finished. But Fitterer believes the moves they've made have helped change the team's perception around the league.

"Some players are attracted when you go after it," he said. "One thing I've learned through this process, talking to a lot of agents; they like the aggressiveness we have. They like that we're going for it. They like the fact we have an owner that's aggressive. They like that this is a great place to live and a place that should be very desirable, and a place you want to be. That's some of the feedback that I've gotten.

"I'm excited about where this is at."

While Fitterer wasn't going to get deeply into any of discussions surrounding the Panthers' efforts to trade for Deshaun Watson (he was being introduced in Cleveland moments after Fitterer's press conference), Fitterer simply said the team "did their work," as they went through the process.

He also said many of the moves they made this offseason were planned with or without that level of quarterback transaction. They've restructured a number of contracts (including Taylor Moton, Shaq Thompson, Robby Anderson, and Christian McCaffrey) to give themselves flexibility to make moves, though that comes with a cost of future cap space (though the cap continues to rise steadily and could take a significant jump in the coming years).

Specifically, Fitterer said he thinks the team is much better up front, having added guard Austin Corbett and center Bradley Bozeman to the offensive line mix. To field a starting five at this point would suggest they're comfortable with Brady Christensen at left tackle, but Fitterer said he's still exploring a veteran addition there — and the sixth pick in the draft remains a possibility.

Along with making the defense deeper — with the additions of defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis, linebackers Damien Wilson and Cory Littleton, and safety Xavier Woods — Fitterer thinks the team is "two steps closer" to a point of contending in the division than they were a year ago.

"Our whole focus is to get the whole team right," Fitterer said. "Last year, we came in and kind of reset that defense and rebuilt that defense, and we added some pieces this year. We've rebuilt this offense, we have a much better offensive line. We've got the running backs, the skill positions, the receivers. Eventually it's going to get to the point where you drop a quarterback in, and guys just take off. That's what we're building towards, and I think we're a lot closer this year than we have been the last year or two."

That leads to the natural speculation about when that other quarterback will arrive. Sam Darnold and P.J. Walker are still here and under contract for another season, but the Panthers are clearly in the mood to find a long-term answer.

The Panthers just made a sweep of the top prospect pro days this week, with Fitterer and head coach Matt Rhule leading a large contingent to watch Kenny Pickett, Malik Willis, and Matt Corral work out.

But whether it's retaining the right to make another move, or using the sixth pick on one of those guys, that position remains a priority.

Fitterer didn't rule out making a trade for a quarterback, just as he didn't rule out bringing back veteran cornerback Stephon Gilmore or quarterback Cam Newton.

He mentioned "the door's open" for both, but noted it needed to fit both parties.

His goal is to create a better roster, so this will be viewed as a better fit for many players in the future.

Go behind the scenes with Bozeman as he arrives in Charlotte.

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