With Fitterer Out, Carolina Has a Clean Slate – What Will They Do With It?

Black Monday brought what many Carolina Panthers faithful thought to be inevitable: an early morning parting of ways with general manager Scott Fitterer. To say the 2023 campaign was disappointing would be the understatement of the year. A 2-15 start earned the Chicago Bears the first overall pick via trade from Carolina and many are struggling to find a light at the end of the tunnel. To get Bryce Young with the overall pick, the Panthers gave up the farm – and DJ Moore. While Moore left big shoes to fill, there was confidence that free agency pickups would help to shoulder the burden of missed offense from the wideout. Arguably, the only significant contributor on the offensive side of the ball from that free agency haul was veteran receiver Adam Thielen. Carolina let D’Onta Foreman walk after a productive 2022 season and paid big money for Miles Sanders. Paired with Duce Staley once again, there were high hopes for the running back who rushed for 1,269 yards and 11 touchdowns for the Philadelphia Eagles in their run to the Super Bowl in 2022. Instead, Sanders eventually lost his starting job to Chuba Hubbard and only found the end zone once while hitting only one-third of his previous rushing yardage total. Hayden Hurst missed nearly half of the season with injuries, DJ Chark didn’t fully evolve into the consistent deep threat he was expected to be, and the offensive line regressed tremendously. With no first round pick to look forward to, Frank Reich ousted after eleven games, Fitterer was undoubtedly on the hot seat.

When you go beyond this dumpster fire of a season, owner David Tepper’s tenure has been peppered with several instances of roster mismanagement. Some of it preceded Fitterer, some fell under his watch. But was it also under his power? Hired in January 2021, Fitterer came into a situation where then-head coach Matt Rhule had been given final roster control. Shortly after, there was the highly questionable trade for quarterback Sam Darnold. To add insult to injury, the team inexplicably – at least at that time – picked up the fifth-year option in spite of the bad NFL film that existed on the 2018 No. 3 overall pick. That next month, the team elected to draft cornerback Jaycee Horn when quarterback Justin Fields was available. While Horn has been elite when on the field, the third-year corner has only played in 22 games. Sitting at 3-0 to start the 2021 season, Carolina traded for cornerback CJ Henderson, a top-10 pick just a year before. In hindsight, there are critics of the trade; although at the time, it was a low risk move.

Fitterer succeeded Marty Hurney with an “in on every deal” philosophy that ended in a number of wasted draft picks and trades that sent productive stars like Christian McCaffrey and DJ Moore out of Charlotte where they have each performed admirably with their new teams. Then there’s the still-looming Brian Burns contract situation. The team turned down two first-round picks offered for the pass rusher but has still yet to sign him to a long-term deal – now he could walk with the Panthers receiving nothing if they don’t franchise tag him. How much of that was Fitterer? How much was a combination of Tepper’s involvements in football affairs and a revolving door at head coach? We may never know. What we do know is that the NFL is a results-driven league and the results at Mint Street have been putrid. Someone had to go and with a 14-37 record during his tenure, Fitterer was the latest victim of the NFL’s slow churn. With Monday’s firing, the Panthers will begin the search for both a new head coach and a new general manager at the same time for the first time since 2002. As difficult as it may be, Tepper will need to hire a general manager and….let him do his job. He or she should be involved, along with the outside agency that Tepper has already employed, with the selection of the next head coach. With the wagons hitched to Young, several holes to fill on offense, and some key contributors due for pay days on the defensive side of the ball, these next few months will be paramount to the franchise’s future. Tepper has cleaned house, now it’s time to build a foundation that won’t be huffed, puffed, and blown away by further self-sabotage and mismanagement.

Sheena Quick
Sports mom/accountant/life-long athlete and lover of all sports.