Pressure falls on all NFL general managers around draft time, as they’re expected to select players who will improve the team for the short and long term. So when a team nose-dives from 15-1 NFC champions to 6-10 with a quarterback who goes from league MVP to his career-worst season, that pressure intensifies.
Such is the case for the Carolina Panthers and general manager Dave Gettleman, who is under intense pressure to find immediate help for Cam Newton.
While Newton seemed to behaving a good time in his dazzling floral outfitat Coachella last weekend, Gettlemansurely was holed up in his draft room, poring over player video and calculating his draftstrategy.
Gettleman can go in several different directions with his first-round pick, the No. 8 overall selection.But his top priority likely will be a premier offensive playmaker or lineman to support his quarterback.
MOCK DRAFT: Panthers go defense early
Newton's stats took a dramatic detour last season due to a rash of offensive line injuries combined with his own injuries and inconsistent play. He went from 35 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions in his Super Bowl season to 19 TD passes and 14 interceptions. With his career-low 52.9 percent completion rate factored in, his quarterback rating declined from 99.4 to a lackluster 75.8.
Newton's rushing yardage also dropped (from 636 yards and 10 TDs to 359 yards and fiveTDs) due in part to his injuries. He suffered a concussion during a loss at Atlanta in early October. Then hepartially tore the rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder on Dec. 11 against the Chargers but played through the injury in the final three games.
Team doctors hopedrest and rehab would heal Newton’s shoulder, but that didn't happen. Newton had surgery March 30, which had to irritate Gettleman and coach Ron Rivera since the procedureprobably should have occurred in January.
Newton is not expected back at practice until training camp. Missing OTAs will not make it any easier for him to put his poor 2016 season in the rear-view mirror, and he'll miss critical offseason work with new free-agent wide receivers Charles Johnson and Russell Shepard, not to mention the players Gettlemanselects in the draft.
Speculation on who Gettleman will tap at No. 8 is all over the map. But, as long as he doesn’t trade the pick, he has a chance to get a Pro Bowl-caliber player.
Gettleman might decide to go defense if his highest-rated player available at the time of his selection is a defender. But it's safer to assumehe'll want to add a playmaker for his meal ticket, Newton, and grab either tight end O.J. Howard or, more likely, one of the potentially elite running backs in Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffreyorDalvin Cook.
Gettleman partially addressed the offensive line with the expensive ($11 million per year) and risky free-agency signing of left tackle Matt Kalil, who played only two games with the Vikings last season due to a hip injury. Kalilhas beenan inconsistent player over his first five years, but Gettleman is hoping he'll play up to his potential when he joins his brother Ryan on Carolina’s line.
Offensive tackle remains a priority for the Panthers, but the best tackles in the draft (such as Cam Robinson and Ryan Ramczyk) are not rated by most analysts as top-10 talents. So the Panthers probably will look to Round 2 and beyond to address theirO-line.
STEELE: Do Panthers even like Cam?
The rest of the Panthers’ draft will be about bringing in youthful talent on both sides of the ball. The defense is particularly long in the tooth after it added three free agents over the age of 33: defensive end Julius Peppers, defensive tackle Paul Soliai and strong safety Mike Adams, along with 29-year-old cornerback Captain Munnerlyn.
Gettleman is happy he was able to get his Pro Bowl and franchise-tagged defensive tackle Kawann Short signed to a long-term deal, thus avoiding another Josh Norman-type problem where a premier player is lost due to contract issues.
As for Newton, it's surprising to hear Rivera say the three-time Pro Bowler needs to "rebuild his confidence."But the GMcan expedite that process.
Gettleman can do it with an influx of offensive talent via this draft. He knows he needs to deliver in order to help the Panthers return to the playoffs.
Otherwise, Gettleman'sNFL Executive of the Year award from 2015 might not protect him from the wrath of team owner Jerry Richardson.
Jeff Diamond is the former president of the Titans and the former vice president/general manager of the Vikings. He was selected NFL Executive of the Year in 1998. Diamond is currently a business and sports consultant who also does broadcast and online media work. He is the former chairman and CEO of The Ingram Group. Follow Jeff on Twitter: @jeffdiamondNFL.