Fitterer details process of trading for No. 1 pick

Panthers G.M. Scott Fitterer joins Mike Florio to provide insight on the strategy with trading up for the No. 1 NFL draft pick, reveal when he knew Bryce Young was their guy and more.

Video Transcript

MIKE FLORIO: We commence our post-draft series of interviews with general managers from throughout the NFL. And we're going to start with the guy whose team had the first pick in the 2023 Draft, Panthers GM Scott Fitterer. Scott, welcome back. How are you?

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SCOTT FITTERER: Good. Thanks for having me, Mike.

MIKE FLORIO: One of my small talk questions at the start of these is, what do you do now that the draft's over? But I see what you're doing. You're already signing your rookie class.

SCOTT FITTERER: Yeah, we got after it this morning. Samir went out and signed Jammie Robinson. We'll try to get these guys under contract as soon as we can. And we have rookie minicamp in two weeks. We have OTAs right now. So it never really stops.

MIKE FLORIO: It really has changed. I think 2011 was the moment where it became so much easier. The process of negotiating these picks was streamlined, and we see more and more of them done. Most of them are usually done by Memorial Day weekend. Used to be most didn't even get started until after 4th of July.


And it made me think of something. There was a time when the first overall pick would actually have a contract on the way in the door before the pick was even made. Was there any consideration to doing that with Bryce Young this year?

SCOTT FITTERER: No, we had reached out to a couple of agents prior to the draft. Never really got the contract done, but reached out about what the sticking points may be. And I don't foresee those being an issue.

MIKE FLORIO: What are the things that can be negotiated at this point for the first overall pick? My understanding is cash flow of the signing bonus, the structure of the guarantees, what may void a guarantee. What are the big issues that are left, now that we've got a much more formulaic rookie wage scale process?

SCOTT FITTERER: Yeah, a lot of it's just slotted. We let Samir Suleiman, who does our caps, do all of that. It really comes down to deferments and structure. So you don't have the big hang-ups that you had 10 years ago, guys that would hold out until the first or second week of camp.


And really, it's great because these guys get in. They're on time to camp. They're getting those reps early on. So it really works out well for us.

MIKE FLORIO: I want to go back to before we talk about how Bryce Young became your selection at number one, how you got to number one. I remember after the Combine, there was a sense that Bears were going to do something. It was a question of when. When did the light bulb first go off for you? And when I say you, I mean it broadly for the Panthers, about trading up from number 9 to number 1.

SCOTT FITTERER: Right. So out of the February meetings, we met with the scouts. We had a new coaching staff. They hadn't really dug into the quarterbacks yet. But during our draft meetings, usually it's just the scouts. But we invited Coach Reich, Thomas Brown, Josh McCown, Jim Caldwell, all of the coaches in to listen to the quarterbacks because it was such an important decision that we had to make as a franchise.

We'd taken a couple of swings at some vets. But we thought the best path forward for us was to draft and develop. So with that in mind, we invited them in, watched the Combine and said, hey, let's see how high we can get in the draft. We're picking at 9. Can we get up to 3, 2, or 1?


And so we explored really more 3 and 1 than anything else. And then as it played out at the Combine, I talked to Ryan Poles a couple of times. And we did not do a deal at the Combine.

I came home to Charlotte, and then I got word that something was happening in Chicago. They might be talking to another team as well, another couple of teams. There was something on the move.

So I called Ryan on it. It was a Tuesday evening. I said, hey, if you're doing something, is there a way we can jump in? And so we talked about it, and fortunately we were able to do something. We thought we had another deal done.

And then it got to Friday, and we just decided, hey, listen, let's just take the jump from 9 to 1. Ryan was great about the way he worked with us. And we found a deal that worked for both sides.


MIKE FLORIO: And when you say you talked to him on a Tuesday night, is that all happening the same week, then? Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, the deal is done?

SCOTT FITTERER: Tuesday night, we had the initial talk. Kind of finished the conversation on Wednesday, Wednesday afternoon. And then it dragged on for a couple of days. There were some other things that were happening.

And originally, it was not to go to 1. And then when we decided to go to 1, we decided Friday morning, OK, let's talk again. And then we worked it out what the compensation would be. And then Friday, really late afternoon, about 3:00 or 4:00 PM our time, we were able to get the deal done at that point. So really it was over the period of three or four days that that happened.

MIKE FLORIO: So if you had gone to number three, you're basically in the position the 49ers are in two years ago, where we've got three guys we really like. We just don't pick which one is going to be left over for us, if two quarterbacks go before we pick. And you would have been comfortable doing that?


SCOTT FITTERER: Well, we had conviction on a couple of guys at the top coming out of those meetings. That's not the ideal spot. We were still trying to look to explore, can you get 2, can you get to 1. But once we made the jump to 1, we said, let's do it. Let's pay this price. That way, we can control the players that we want to get. We can get the best players that we think for our team.

And at the time, we had committed to going through the process. We thought maybe Bryce would be the guy. But we committed to having a real continuous process and really looked at it from every angle. We looked. We studied CJ hard, we studied Anthony hard, and Will hard. And yeah, we were looking at Hendon Hooker. We were just trying to figure out who was the right guy for us.

And then throughout the process, as we got to know Bryce, he started checking every box. And we thought the other guys were going to be really good players, but Bryce was the right one for us at the end.

MIKE FLORIO: You mentioned the four quarterbacks that were taken first in the draft, although the fourth had a long wait. How surprised were you that Will Levis went all the way to number 33?


SCOTT FITTERER: I was surprised. You sit there, and you kind of feel like it's maybe an old Rodgers moment, where he's sitting there. And you feel for guys in those situations because we got to know Will. We know he's a talented guy.

But he ended up in a good spot, and really it's not where you start, it's where you finish. I know that's kind of cliche, but you end up in a spot for a reason, and I think Will will have a great career.

MIKE FLORIO: Somebody suggested to me on Friday, and you're in a position where I think you can assess this more objectively because you weren't in the middle of it. But somebody said that once the slide starts, other teams start doubting their evaluation because others aren't taking the guy.

So what did we miss? What did we overlook? What are they seeing that we haven't seen? So they pass on him, too, and it just greases the skids, and out he goes. Do you agree that that is a dynamic in a slide like the one we saw?


SCOTT FITTERER: I think sometimes that creeps into your head, yes. And I think another part is as you get down later in the mid to late first round, a lot of those teams are successful and have winning records because they already have quarterbacks.

And it's hard to take a quarterback in the first round if you already have one. Even though there is value there, you may take a tackle or a pass rusher or someone else instead. So there's different reasons why, but yes, doubt can creep into your head. And you turn around you ask the scouts, OK, what's going on here? Is there something we're missing? But in most cases, that wasn't the case. It was just more, I think, finding the right fit.

MIKE FLORIO: You know, it's funny. I smiled when you say that because we hear evaluators and coaches say from time to time, we're taking the best available player, regardless of position. But that, I believe, is always influenced by what your needs are. You can't separate your needs from your assessment of the best available players.

Because especially in this day and age, where it's one year at a time, one year at a time, you want somebody that's going to come in and fill a need, not the best guy on the board, even if he's clearly the best guy if you do a neutral assessment of the remaining players.


SCOTT FITTERER: Right. I think quarterback's kind of a little bit different in that situation, just because of the nature of the position that only one guy plays. We always say best player available. Everybody always says that. But in Philadelphia's case this year, Howie Roseman has plenty of pass rushers. He did take the best player available at 30, Nolan Smith.

So you do hold true to that as much as you can. You have your value that you place on a player. And then once the need hits and they intersect, maybe that's when you take a need. When two guys are rated the same, you have a need on your roster, that's when you take need. I think in this situation about the quarterback, it's just a very specific instance where maybe you would not take that player.

MIKE FLORIO: So you get to number 1. And one of the realities of having the first pick in the draft is at some point, you've got to put a name on the card. You have to make a choice, and you got multiple options. You got multiple guys you feel good about. Pros, cons, pluses, minuses. How do you get to the point, once you get the number 1 overall pick, that Bryce Young is your guy?

SCOTT FITTERER: Like I said, we went through a really continuous process. And we tried to poke holes in him. We looked at them from every different angle. We went to our analytics guys. We went to player engagement. We went to the psychologist. You look for anything that you might miss just on taking on the evaluation. We have all these back checks in place.

And once that person is able stand in there and stay at the top of the board the whole time, you know you have your guy. But it was a real process. And we really didn't decide until the Monday prior to the draft, when I walked into Frank's office, said, OK, who we taking? Just kind of a quick question. He said Bryce. I talked to Mr. Tepper about it. And I think we were all on board. It was a consensus throughout the organization. Bryce was the right guy for us.

MIKE FLORIO: Was there a moment where you sensed that's where it was going? Was it a meeting? Was it a discussion? Was it his pro day work? I mean, when was it that you thought, you know what, I have a feeling this is where we're going to end up?

SCOTT FITTERER: The one thing that stands out is probably at dinner the night before his pro day. And we're sitting in a restaurant, and we're talking to him. And this is the first time-- you've interviewed him at the Combine in a 18-minute interview. We've talked to him at other places.

But this is the time we see him in a social setting, where we're sitting around a table, and we're really just getting to know the guy. And he's holding court. We had a couple-hour dinner with him. And as you're sitting there at dinner, you're just looking at this guy. And I'm thinking in my head the whole time, OK, is this the right guy for us?

Is this the guy that we want kind of being our face? Is he the one we want leading our team in the huddle when it's the fourth quarter? And you have all these questions in your head as you're sitting at dinner, just watching him talk to other people. And that's kind of the moment that I had personally, where I thought, OK, this is the guy. This is the guy that we want leading the team.

MIKE FLORIO: Help the folks who don't do this for a living understand the line from how someone handles themselves at a social dinner and how someone handles themselves on a football field. I'm sure it's not a bright, clear line. It's more of a jagged, dotted line. But what do you glean from those interactions that make you think this is going to be the right guy for us on the football field?

SCOTT FITTERER: Yeah, you feel the presence of the player, just like the command that they have. As he's sitting there at dinner, he is so poised. And you're like, OK, if I put this guy in a huddle, if Frank and I are saying this is the guy. We're putting him in the huddle. Game's on the line.

Bryce is the guy we want our players looking at, knowing this is the guy that can get it done for us. We can win with this guy. And I think that's kind of where that social part overlaps into the football side, when you get to know the person and not just the player.

MIKE FLORIO: There's an old school football mentality. And look, analytics have been part of personnel evaluation for years. We talk about it as it relates to fourth down decisions, and going for two, and whatever. But there are models. There are prototypes. And he doesn't fit the prototype that's accepted as it relates to size, height, weight of a passer. What did you do to get past that, to get to the point where you were comfortable defying the prototypes?

SCOTT FITTERER: Yeah, I think it's something I learned from John Schneider in Seattle. What are the compensating factors? And John went through that when he was looking at Russell. And the one thing he said, how is his height going to affect him? And we're talking about he's 5' 10". What are the limitations here?

Usually on a shorter quarterback, that's being able to throw it over the middle of the field for the first 8 to 10 yards. One thing about Bryce is he can see over the middle of the field. We did a heat map with him, where a lot of his completions were right over the middle of the field. And guys that are 6' 3", 6' 4" are getting balls batted down going over the middle and lower completion rate.

And the one thing about Bryce, he had a really high completion rate. He only had two batted balls. And you're like, OK, this guy understands how to slide in the pocket, how to find the windows and the throwing lanes. There's a real art to that, and he makes it look so easy.

And he's never stressed in the pocket. He's just-- very subtle movements. But he's finding that lane. He's throwing the ball. So we didn't think the height would be a factor with him. It was something we definitely studied. And you have to study it because it's a real thing. But he does have those compensating factors.

MIKE FLORIO: How does the weight factor into this? Especially the first draft after we saw Tua Tagovailoa hit the ground three different times this year. Helmet strikes the turf. The physics aren't in your favor if you're on the wrong side of 200 pounds. How do you overcome that concern that this is a guy who can get thrown around and possibly injured when he lands, just because he doesn't weigh as much as other quarterbacks do?

SCOTT FITTERER: Yeah, again, that's another something that we really talked about. How is he going to hold up? You do study guys like Tua and other players. We can build up his body. One thing, coming from Alabama, they have all the resources. He's coming from a program that has all the resources.

But we do think as his body matures, he will add mass. We will get him on a strength program that will bulk him up. I think the rules now in the NFL where you can't land on quarterbacks with the body weight, that plays into it.

The one thing about Bryce, he does get rid of the ball a lot of times before he takes a hit. He's not a guy that's going to stand in the pocket and hold onto the ball for four seconds when that ball should be out in three. So he will avoid some of those hits. He's very elusive in the pocket.

So there is a way that we are going to play him. There's things we'll ask him to do, like, hey, just throw the ball away. Live to fight another day. You don't need to stand in the pocket for the last second on this second down play. Let's just get the third down and not take that unnecessary hit.

And then another thing that we did. When we built our offensive line, we really want stout guys up the middle between our guards and centers. Because these three techs and these interior linemen are so powerful, so quick now that that's what really disrupts the quarterback, especially a shorter quarterback. So if we can build it really stout up the middle, we think that'll also help Bryce.

MIKE FLORIO: You referred to getting rid of the ball quickly and making good decisions. That brings me to the test that not many of us had heard about before this draft cycle. But it's been around for a while, the S2. The Wonderlic has been around forever, intelligence test.

S2, I think is different. I've talked to some people about what it is, how it works. Explain it to me, and also explain how Bryce Young did so well, and what that meant to you, given that he did so well on it.

SCOTT FITTERER: Yeah, I think we have to understand it's not an intelligence test. It's more of a processing test. And it's not a deciding factor for us. It's a tool that we use to gauge where a guy is at processing speed wise. And there's other little elements and certain positions, it probably weighs more heavily on.

But Bryce did really well on it. That's great. But if he had done poorly on it, it's just another small factor in the evaluation process. But the fact that he did well, it just kind of cemented the fact, OK, what we see is him as an elite processor. This test confirms that. Had he done poorly, we would have gone back, taken a look. But that doesn't mean he's not a good processor. It's just he didn't do well on that test.

MIKE FLORIO: Is it more like a video game than a test, where you have to react to certain flashes and dots and things moving on the screen? Is that how it works?

SCOTT FITTERER: Yeah, that's my understanding. I've actually never taken it, so I don't know. It's probably a good thing that I haven't taken it. But my understanding is it's more of a reactionary test. You're reacting to flashes and different things.

It's something we believe in. It's something Brandon Ally, who runs it, he's a person that we've gotten to know. And we do like it. It's something that's valuable to us.

MIKE FLORIO: So what's the timetable for getting him on the field? You've got Andy Dalton. You've got Matt Corral, third-rounder last year that suffered an injury fairly early in the process. We've just kind of forgotten he's even there, but he was a highly rated guy last year. How does it work from the standpoint of Bryce Young going from first overall pick to being your starting quarterback?

SCOTT FITTERER: Yeah, we're going to rely on our coaches, Jim Caldwell, Frank Reich, Thomas Brown, to decide when it's right. We don't have a timeline. We're not saying, hey, this guy's going to start the first game or we're not going to play him at all this year.

When the time is right, or we felt like he's got enough in the mastery of the offense where he can go out and operate this and be successful, that's when he'll be out there. We went out and signed Andy Dalton for a reason. He played as a rookie. He's got a lot of experience. He understands his role.

And we can play good football. If Andy's the guy to start the season, and he's the starter right now heading into the season, then he'll be the guy. When Bryce is ready or Matt Corral is ready, whoever it may be, that'll be the time they go in.

We say it's an open competition. But Frank did say, hey, Andy's our guy right now. He'll walk into the season as the starter. And then as the young guys compete underneath him, then they'll go in when they're ready.

MIKE FLORIO: Last one for you. And every time I say that, I know that's the kiss of death because that means there's going to be another one. But you mentioned Mr. Tepper. I saw him at the pro day workouts. He was involved. How does he strike the balance between "I own the team, it's ultimately my call" and "I'm not qualified to be making these decisions. I have to defer to the experts I've hired to run my football operation."

SCOTT FITTERER: Well, first of all, he loves this, and he loves the process, and he loves being around the people. He's not involved to the point of watching tape and evaluating and offering suggestions, like, hey, why don't we take this guy? Why don't we take that guy?

He'll ask us about players. But his whole role is he's about process. His whole world is about process and back checks and finding the data and making that decision with the most information that you can get.

And that's what he challenges us on. It's not about, oh, why are you taking this guy? He may say that, but he wants to understand why. It's not about-- he's not out at his pro days trying to figure out, does he have the arm strength? That's not his world. And he's the first one to tell you that's not the world, that's not what I know.

But what he does know is when he talks to the coaches when he's there, and say we're at Alabama and we go up to Nick Saban's office, he's in there, and he's trying to understand who this kid is. And he wants to hear what Nick Saban has to say. He wants to talk to the family. He wants to talk to the coaches around there.

But again, it all comes back to he lets us make the decision. But he really challenges us on process and having the right process.

MIKE FLORIO: Scott, this was awesome. I've taken up too much of your time. You have rookies to go sign, apparently. Go get to work on Bryce Young's contract. I'll look forward to the news that he's been signed, sealed, and delivered.

SCOTT FITTERER: That's awesome. Appreciate it, Mike. Thank you.

MIKE FLORIO: All right, thanks so much.