With key deals looming, history with vets might have been Panthers GM's undoing

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Dave Gettleman had a history of being stubborn when it came to extending the contracts of older veterans during his four seasons as general manager of the Carolina Panthers.

He released the Panthers' all-time leading receiver, Steve Smith, after the 2013 season. Gettleman also released the team's all-time leading rusher, DeAngelo Williams, after the 2014 season.

Both were in their 30s. Both were bitter and said harsh things about the man who let them go and the way it was handled.

Gettleman also parted with Pro Bowl cornerback Josh Norman after the Panthers' 2015 Super Bowl season. That decision in large part led to a 6-10 record in 2016 and drew more criticism for Gettleman.

So the timing of owner Jerry Richardson's dismissal of Gettleman on Monday is interesting -- eight days before players report to training camp, with outside linebacker Thomas Davis and tight end Greg Olsen seeking extensions.

Davis is 34 but has made the Pro Bowl the past two seasons. Olsen is 32 and has made the Pro Bowl the past three seasons.

Extending their deals should be a no-brainer. It should be done before camp.

That there had been little movement, particularly on Olsen, who has two seasons left on his last extension, makes one wonder if there is a connection with Gettleman's untimely dismissal.

Richardson didn't interfere with Gettleman's past decisions. Perhaps he felt it was time.

Perhaps they were at an impasse over Gettleman's history of being stubborn.

That one of the players wanting an extension is Davis makes this all the more interesting. There is no player who defines what Richardson wants the organization to represent more than Davis.

The only other player with similar status in team history is linebacker Sam Mills, who died of cancer in 2005.

Mills is the only player with a statue outside the stadium.

Davis likely is the next.

But Davis wants to play a few more years, and if Gettleman offered resistance, it's only natural that Richardson would step in.

The last thing the Panthers need, as they try to recapture the magic they had during their 15-1 season in 2015, is to have two of their biggest and most popular stars disgruntled.

It'll be up to the next general manager to make sure that doesn't happen.

Credit Gettleman for getting the Panthers' salary-cap situation healthy. They went from about $16 million over the cap when he replaced Marty Hurney to more than $25 million under the cap this past season.

Credit him for helping the Panthers reach a Super Bowl and make three playoff appearances in his four years.

But Gettleman can't escape the criticism he received for what happened with Smith, Williams and Norman.

Smith, who had two productive seasons with Baltimore after his release, was openly critical about the way he was let go.

"He doesn't even have the cojones to tell us to our face," Smith said in 2014. "We have to hear it from someone else. Then he calls and says it wasn't personal. If the first thing that comes out is, 'Well, it wasn't personal,' then guess what? It was personal."

Williams, who spent the past two seasons in Pittsburgh, recently said the Panthers were off his list of potential teams to play for this season because of the way he was treated.

"I had no problems with getting [released], but there are things that went on there that I didn't like -- and I still don't like to this day," Williams recently told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. "There's no point in me going back there. You're an ex for a reason, right? You don't go back to exes, and that's just where I'm at there."

When Gettleman was fired, Williams immediately announced on Twitter that he has put the Panthers back on his list:

Norman, who wanted to remain with Carolina, responded with this on Twitter after the news of Gettleman's release became public:

So if you’re looking for answers as to why Gettleman is no longer with the team, perhaps this is the place to start.

Sometimes, as a player who asked not to be identified told ESPN, "Things come back around in full circle."