After interviewing more than a dozen candidates, the Carolina Panthers decided on their next general manager, hiring Scott Fitterer away from the Seattle Seahawks.
Fitterer had spent 19 years with Seattle, beginning as an area scout and working his way up the ladder into decision-making front office roles. He became the team’s director of college scouting in 2011 just before a series of drafts that helped vault the Seahawks into their position as an annual Super Bowl contender.
In the 10 years Fitterer was out scouting, the Seahawks drafted 10 future Pro Bowl players. Seattle then drafted two in Fitterer’s first year as scouting director — linebacker K.J. Wright and corner Richard Sherman.
The following year, the Seahawks had one of the best drafts in recent history, taking defensive end Bruce Irvin, linebacker Bobby Wagner, quarterback Russell Wilson and running back Robert Turbin with their first four picks.
Not only did Seattle’s Super Bowl XLVIII champions feature seven starters selected in those first two drafts, but two others were signed as undrafted free agents. And that doesn’t include linebacker Malcolm Smith, a seventh-round draft pick in 2011 who returned an interception for a touchdown in the game on his way to being named Super Bowl MVP.
In 2015, Fitterer was promoted to co-director of player personnel and, last year, to VP of football operations.
Fitterer brings a culture of winning to the Panthers, as well as his ability to identify talent. The Seahawks have continued to find starters and Pro Bowl players in the draft, even as their success has put the team near the bottom of the NFL draft order.
He also brings a background different from that of coach Matt Rhule. In his first year at the helm, Rhule had a say in personnel and brought in several players who he’d worked with at Temple and Baylor. The Panthers interviewed candidates who had ties to the head coach, but Fitterer wasn’t one of them. That ensures the Panthers will have a variety of viewpoints as they debate the best way to continue the rebuilding process.
That’s not to say Fitterer and Rhule are complete strangers. The Seahawks brought in undrafted free agents from Rhule’s Baylor teams each of the last two years — cornerback Derrek Thomas in 2019 and safety Chris Miller in 2020. Rhule also was involved in the hiring process.
With his long tenure in the NFL, Fitterer has plenty of former players floating around the league, some of whom may be candidates to come to Carolina.
The Panthers still have one of the oldest rosters in the league and need to get younger across the board. Most glaring on the list of needs are linebacker, offensive line, cornerback and tight end.
One of Fitterer’s first draft hits was Wright, who hits the unrestricted free agent market this year and would be a good fit for the Panthers defense. He wouldn’t fit in with the need to get younger, but, after the Panthers used last year’s entire draft on the defense, an experienced voice in the middle could help pull things together on that side of the ball.
If Fitterer is determined to bring in youth, 2018 Seattle draft pick Shaquem Griffin is available, along with twin brother and cornerback Shaquill, drafted a year earlier.
Jacob Hollister is worth considering at tight end. The 28-year-old has eight starts and six touchdowns in two years with the Seahawks.
On the offensive line, two of Seattle’s 2020 starters are scheduled to be available on the free agent market — guard Mike Iupati and center Ethan Pocic. Iupati is 34, but Pocic is 26 and can move to guard, if necessary. Tackle Cedric Ogbuehi, who started four games, will be 29 and is another possibility. Guard Jordan Simmons, 26, started six games for Seattle.
There are also former Fitterer players who have moved on from Seattle, although many of them will make the Panthers older, not younger. This list is topped by Sherman, a future Hall of Famer who showed he still has something left on the 49ers this year. Safety Earl Thomas is 31 and didn’t play last season, so a Legion of Boom reunion in Carolina is probably not on the horizon.
There’s also edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney, still a folk hero in South Carolina. He’s struggled with injury in recent years and missed most of this past season, but a return to his old stomping grounds of the Carolinas could revive his career.
Unlike Rhule, who was new to the league and needed familiar faces to help him install his system and culture, Fitterer has been in the NFL for two decades and has a proven ability to uncover talent, both in college and elsewhere in the league. So it’s possible the team won’t need to lean on his former connections.
He’ll have plenty of opportunities as the team begins what promises to be another active offseason.