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Carolina Panthers

Scott Fitterer Q and A: On draft plans, and recovering on the fly

Scott Fitterer

PALM BEACH, Fla. — Something about being next to the ocean can make you reflective.

So as Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer sat poolside at The Breakers resort, overlooking the Atlantic and steps away from the NFL's annual meeting, he talked about the last year-plus of his life, when he took over a personnel department of strangers, and began the work of building a team.

But for all the moments of significant change he's already seen, he thought back to breakfast a couple of Fridays ago.

He and head coach Matt Rhule and assistant general manager Dan Morgan sat around a round table in the team's cafeteria at Bank of America Stadium on March 18, talking about what was next after the team's pursuit of quarterback Deshaun Watson. They sketched out the basics of a plan, went upstairs to their offices, got owner David Tepper and vice president of football administration Samir Suleiman on the phone, and quickly went to work moving on — in a big way. Hours later, star receiver DJ Moore was signed to a three-year contract extension, keeping a key piece of the future in-house, and lowering his salary cap number to help create more flexibility. It was part of a day that saw them add three other players (defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis, punter Johnny Hekker, and center Bradley Bozeman), followed the next morning by a new three-year deal for cornerback Donte Jackson.

In short, they did a lot of work, important work, and they did it quickly.

"That morning, after Deshaun said no, Matt and Dan and I were sitting around the cafeteria, and it was an attitude of, 'OK, what do we want to do? Let's go get DJ done,'" Fitterer said. "It was like, 'Let's go do this today, let's go kick ass, let's turn the page.' And that kind of set the tone. So instead of it being a negative not getting Deshaun, the whole narrative changed.

"I thought it was important. The good thing was, we went upstairs and called Dave, and Dave very quickly went through the process with us and Samir — what do these guys make, what are their ages, what are their price points, what's the injury history, how many games have they missed? So when you go through that with DJ, he's 24 years old, one of the most consistent receivers in the league yards-wise, and he always plays, he's banged up, but he's always on the practice field and always shows up. That's what you want; that's the type of guy you want to reward."

David Tepper, Scott Fitterer

Recovering quickly was a key part of a fluid offseason plan, a plan that continues as they prepare for the draft — in which they hold the sixth pick. Here's a portion of Fitterer on that topic, among others, at the end of a hectic month of March.

Q: In the last year and change, are there things about this job that you didn't realize were going to be part of the job description?

FITTERER: A lot of things, but mostly the problem-solving. There's actually more problem-solving than actual scouting at this point. What the general manager does is manage. You're in charge of the scouting process and all that, but you realize it's more of a true management and leadership role. And people come up with personal issues and want to talk to you in your room, and you have to understand, it's not just an employee, it's a person, and you want to help them out. There's a lot more of that than I ever knew that John (Schneider, Fitterer's former boss and Seahawks GM) had to deal with.

"It's fun, because you never know what's going to happen every day. But just when you're getting ready to scout and watch tape, somebody walks in."

Q: Do you have to carve out specific times of the day which are devoted to just scouting, to set that part of the job aside?

FITTERER: "I think now, leading up to the draft, will be that time. We have a new film room down there (near the football offices in the stadium), so we can hide down there, shut the door, and watch tape with the guys. A lot more time with Matt and Dan and Pat (Stewart, the director of player personnel) sitting there watching tape than in the past."

Matt Rhule, Scott Fitterer

Q: When you think about what you've done so far, there are still two big needs on this team — left tackle and quarterback. How do you balance the need to fill both spots, in the context of the sixth overall pick in this year's draft?

FITTERER: "This will be interesting because the tackles will be the best players on the board. But we do need a quarterback, and at some point you have to take a shot, especially in the top 10. You hate to force it, because when you force it, you could make a mistake.

"It's a unique quarterback class, because there's not a clear number one, number two, number three. Like, who's the proven starter who can come in and play for you? That'll be the conversation we have for the next month — quarterback or left tackle. And we could always go pass-rusher because Brian Burns is coming up (they're picking up his option to extend his rookie deal until 2023). I mean, we'll do the option, but if that money gets out of hand, it's better to have somebody ready to go in the hopper."

Brian Burns

Q: Looking at quarterbacks this year is not without risk, as many analysts think this class is not as good as previous years in terms of talent. Does that give you pause?

FITTERER: "I hear that. But in reverse, how many times have you seen guys like Joey Harrington labeled can't-miss, and they end up missing? Getting the right person with the right makeup with the right skill set for your offense, and having that blend together is key. So much of it is what's around them. You've got to be able to protect them."

Q: With all the moves made so far, what do you consider the positions of strength on this roster?

FITTERER: "I'd say the DB room right now, with Donte back and Jaycee Horn over there. With Xavier Woods coming in, and Juston Burris back. That whole defensive backfield is really stable. I think the defensive line is really good. With Derrick Brown another year growing in this defense and maturing and Burns coming along. Adding Ioannidis to that group was big. That's a really stout, good group right there. You have other guys, Frankie Luvu can come down and rush off the other end. So I think that's good.

"I like the way our offensive line is coming together, with Taylor Moton and adding Austin Corbett and Bradley Bozeman; those are all good additions. They're not at the level of those other groups. So if we go out and get a left tackle, you feel really good about those DBs, the D-line, and your O-line. Then it just comes down to quarterback."

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