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GM Dave Gettleman looks to make it 3 straight playoff appearances since taking over Panthers

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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — There were some questions when Panthers owner hired Dave Gettleman as the team's new general manager in 2013.

Although Gettleman had worked in the NFL for 27 years — mostly with the New York Giants —he'd never held a position with ultimate power over personnel decisions or managed an NFL salary cap.

But so far, so good for Gettleman.

The Panthers have won back-to-back NFC South championships in his first two seasons.

Gettleman believes the team is positioned well to make a deeper playoff push as they report to training camp Thursday at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

Despite inheriting a team $16 million over the NFL salary cap two seasons ago, Gettleman has found a way to limit spending while keeping the team competitive. That has meant cutting some popular players, including the team's all-time leader receiver and all-time leading rusher , and signing low-cost free agents.

"I can't be emotional. I can't," Gettleman said. "That doesn't mean I'm unfeeling, but I have to make business decisions. It's not easy. But I'm being paid to make tough decisions — and I have had to make some tough ones."

He's had some swing and misses for sure, but for the most part the Panthers have drafted well under Gettleman and hit on some free agent role players that have improved the team's overall depth.

Having cleared some salary cap space from the books, Gettleman turned his attention this offseason to extending the contracts of three of his so-called "core players" — quarterback , tight end and linebacker .

Newton's contract — a five-year extension worth more than $100 million — was the most lucrative ever given to a Carolina player.

Gettleman quickly let it be known there are expectations that come along with such a deal, publicly proclaiming Newton is the guy who can get the Panthers to the "Promised Land."

The Panthers have never won a Super Bowl in 20 seasons.

"The signings this offseason sent a message that if you are productive and the right kind of guy. ... that hey, culture is very important to us," Gettleman said. "If we don't have the right culture downstairs (in the locker room) then we don't turn it around when we are 3-8-1 last year."

The Panthers fell into a funk last year following a 2-0 start winning just one game in two months, before rebounding to win five of their final six games including a home playoff win over Arizona.

Gettleman said the leadership of the veteran players carried the team through when injuries forced them to start seven rookies at times.

"The steady hand of those veterans helped us through the rough patch and I think they have continued that this offseason," Gettleman said. "We have those types of guys."

With the younger players having experienced playing team, the Panthers expect to better prepared to compete with the two-time defending NFC champion Seattle Seahawks.

That mission starts Thursday.

Coach plans to be at Wofford College when players report to training camp, but could miss some practices following the death of his brother. Rivera posted on Twitter that his brother Mickey, 56, died on Wednesday following a two-year battle with pancreatic cancer. Mickey Rivera lived in Reno, Nevada.

Panthers spokesman Steven Drummond said Rivera's plans remain fluid because funeral arrangements are still being finalized. The Panthers start practice Friday and their first day off isn't until Tuesday.

Rivera also posted a picture of he and Mickey on Twitter and wrote, "He was one of my 1st & best teammates. Love u bro."


AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

PHOTO: FILE - In this Sept. 28, 2014, file photo, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) is sacked by Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (55) during the first half of an NFL football game in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)
FILE - In this Sept. 28, 2014, file photo, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) is sacked by Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (55) during the first half of an NFL football game in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

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PHOTO: FILE - In this June 4, 2015, file photo, Carolina Panthers' Luke Kuechly, left, talks with defensive coordinator Sean McDermott during an NFL football organized team activity in Charlotte, N.C. Carolina's defense has finished in the top 10 the last three seasons and is expected to be strong again behind middle linebacker Kuechly. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File)
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