Panthers begin to turn page after deflating Super Bowl loss


Dave Gettleman has been on both ends of the spectrum when it comes to the Super Bowl — winning two with the New York Giants as a front office assistant and losing on Sunday as general manager of the Carolina Panthers.

“This side stinks,” Gettleman said Tuesday.

But Gettleman said the Panthers are in good position moving forward, citing the vast majority of the team’s core players being under contract and the fact the team is “not in horrible shape” under next season’s NFL salary cap.

He acknowledged that going 15-1 in the regular season and reaching the Super Bowl was “very unique,” but was quick to add that the goal is to get refocused and next year reach the peak of the mountain.

“You can’t sit here on your laurels because you went to the Super Bowl and just think you’re going to go back again,” Gettleman said.

He’s right.

The last seven Super Bowl losers have returned to the playoffs the following season, but none have made it back to the big game.

In fact, the last team to lose a Super Bowl and make it back the following year was the Buffalo Bills, who did three times in the early 1990s. The last time a team lost the Super Bowl and came back to win it all the following season was the Miami Dolphins in 1973.

Coach Ron Rivera wants to change all of that.

Rivera congratulated his players on a special season Tuesday before they packed their bags and headed out the door, then flipped the page forward to next season.

“The truth of the matter is that you would love to be in position that Denver is right now, celebrating, but we’re not,” Rivera said. “So going forward, there are 30 teams behind us and one in front of us. That’s our goal — if you want to be the champs, beat the champs. We’ve got to start planning and mapping and getting ready for next season, which we have.”

That begins this week.

Rivera said he will take three days off before he and Gettleman and the scouting staff get together to begin discussing the roster.

Perhaps the two biggest questions the Panthers face is deciding whether to re-sign free agent cornerback Josh Norman (or use the franchise tag on him), and whether to release defensive ends Charles Johnson and Jared Allen, two potential moves that would free up more than $19 million in salary cap space combined

Gettleman refused to speculate on those or any other moves, saying he hasn’t evaluated the roster and even if he had “I don’t talk contracts.”

All-Pro fullback Mike Tolbert will be an unrestricted free agent and wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery and safety Roman Harper have contracts that will void this offseason.

Defensive tackles Kawann Short, who was twice named NFC Defensive Player of the Month this season, is under contract through 2016 but the Panthers may look to extend his deal before training camp.

Rivera acknowledged the 2016 Panthers will look different than this year’s team.

“That locker room will never be the same,” Rivera said. “. . . I was in Chicago with the ’85 team that went to the Super Bowl, and the ’86 team was better statistically but we didn’t win because we didn’t have that same chemistry in the locker room. Things are going to change.”

Some aren’t.

Cam Newton will be around for a while after signing a five-year, $103.8 million contract extension last season. Tight end Greg Olsen, linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis also got new deals last year.

The Panthers don’t draft until 30th overall, but Gettleman said in some ways it will feel like the Panthers have a bonus first-round pick because Kelvin Benjamin, the team’s best wide receiver, will be back after tearing his ACL last year in training camp.

Despite Benjamin’s offense, the Panthers still led the league in scoring — although they managed just 10 points in the Super Bowl.

Olsen said while he has no clue who will be on the roster next season, he has faith in Gettleman, who has gotten the Panthers to the postseason in all three years since his arrival.

“I don’t know what the short-term and long-term plans are for this team, but they haven’t steered us wrong yet,” Olsen said. “The decisions around here, while not always easy or popular, have gotten us to where we are at this point.”