Carolina Panthers GM fired following NFL-worst 2-15 record

Published 12:26 pm Monday, January 8, 2024

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By Steve Reed, AP Sports Writer

The Carolina Panthers now need a head coach and a general manager.

The Panthers announced Monday they have fired GM Scott Fitterer one day after the team finished with an NFL-worst 2-15 record.

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“As we move forward with the new direction for our franchise, I have made the decision that Scott Fitterer will no longer serve as our general manager,” Panthers owner David Tepper said in statement. “I appreciate Scott’s efforts and wish the best for him and his family.”

Fitterer joined the team in 2021 and the Panthers have gone 14-37 since. Tepper previously fired head coach Frank Reich just 11 games into his first season after the team started 1-10.

Fitterer did not immediately return text messages left by The Associated Press.

Fitterer orchestrated a trade with the Chicago Bears last year that allowed the Panthers to move to the No. 1 spot to get quarterback Bryce Young in exchange for wide receiver D.J. Moore and four draft picks — one of them that turned out to be the No. 1 overall pick in 2024.

That move hasn’t worked out well for the Panthers and has been widely criticized, particularly given the success of No. 2 overall pick and rookie of the year candidate C.J. Stroud, who has the Houston Texans headed to the playoffs in his first season.

Fitterer also swung a deal last year that sent the team’s best player, Christian McCaffrey, to the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for draft picks, but none of them in the first round.

Two of Fitterer’s top free agent additions this past offseason — running back Miles Sanders and tight end Hayden Hurst — were major disappointments in 2023.

In addition, Fitterer turned down a trade offer from the Los Angeles Rams that would have brought two first-round draft picks in exchange for outside linebacker Brian Burns. The Panthers have been unable to sign Burns to a long-term contract extension and he will become an unrestricted free agent this offseason.

But the Young trade has a chance to go down as one of the worst in league history.

The Panthers have struggled to find consistency at the quarterback situation ever since Tepper purchased the team in 2018.

Fitterer, who said he was “always in on every deal,” dealt for Sam Darnold and later Baker Mayfield, but neither of the former top three draft picks panned out. Fitterer gave the New York Jets a sixth-round pick in 2021 along with second- and fourth-round picks in 2022 for Darnold. He traded a fifth-round pick in 2024 to Cleveland for Mayfield.

The team also made a big push to trade for Deshaun Watson, but he ended up in Cleveland on a fully-guaranteed contract.

Growing desperate, Tepper wanted the team to move up to the No. 1 spot in the draft and land a quarterback.

The Panthers did, but the results didn’t follow.

The 5-foot-10, 204-pound Young, who won the Heisman Trophy in 2021 at Alabama, suffered through a miserable rookie season in which he went 2-14 as a starter and threw for just 179.3 yards per game with 11 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions, three of which were returned for TDs.

He didn’t get much help from his offensive line and was sacked 62 times, tied with Steve Beuerlein for the most in franchise history. Outside of veteran Adam Thielen, Carolina’s wide receivers struggled and the team didn’t get much consistent production from its tight ends.

The Panthers were shutout in back-to-back games to close the season, the first time that has happened since the 2008 Cleveland Browns. The Panthers never ran a play in the fourth quarter this season while in the lead. Both wins came on last-second field goals when they were trailing.

But Chris Tabor, who served as the team’s interim head coach for the final six games, said Sunday he still sees a bright future for Young.

“I think when he is in year 12 and winning a lot of games and slicing people up a little bit, I think he will remember this first year and probably look back and say, ‘you know what, it stunk at the time but this helped me get to where I am at,'” Tabor said. “He has a really bright future.”

Aside from Young, the Panthers didn’t have much other success in the draft under Fitterer.

They selected wide receiver Terrace Marshall Jr. in the second round in 2021, but he has been inactive most of the season and asked for a trade before the deadline.

The Panthers drafted Ickey Ekwonu No. 6 overall last year, but after a promising rookie season, he struggled mightily at left tackle this season. The Panthers also moved up into the third round last year to draft quarterback Matt Corral, but the Mississippi product never played a down for Carolina in the regular season and was released. Corral is no longer in the league.

Most of the team’s late-round draft picks over the last three years are no longer with the team.

With Fitterer out, assistant general manager Dan Morgan will handle day-to-day operations until a new hire is made.