Panthers promote Dan Morgan to president of football ops/GM: 5 tasks for his to-do list

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The Panthers have a new top voice in their front office.

On Monday, Carolina owner David Tepper promoted Dan Morgan — the team’s former assistant GM — to President of Football Operations and general manager.

Morgan, 45, has been with the Panthers since 2021. He spent three seasons as former GM Scott Fitterer’s right-hand man.

The then-assistant GM ran the Panthers’ personnel department during his time under Fitterer, and he was part of the leadership group that scouted and identified quarterback Bryce Young as the face of the franchise last offseason.

Morgan has worked in NFL scouting departments since 2010. He climbed up the scouting ranks in Seattle with the Seahawks from 2010 to 2017 before joining the Buffalo Bills’ front office in 2018. Morgan spent three seasons (2018 to 2020) as the Bills’ director of player personnel. Morgan’s work in Buffalo helped establish the Bills as a perennial playoff contender.

Former Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly, left, speaks with team assistant general manager Dan Morgan, center, as team general manager Scott Fitterer, right, looks on at Bank of America Stadium on Monday, September 18, 2023. The Panthers host the New Orleans Saints in NFL action at Bank of America Stadium.
Former Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly, left, speaks with team assistant general manager Dan Morgan, center, as team general manager Scott Fitterer, right, looks on at Bank of America Stadium on Monday, September 18, 2023. The Panthers host the New Orleans Saints in NFL action at Bank of America Stadium.

Prior to Morgan’s scouting career, the former linebacker played seven seasons with the Panthers. Carolina selected Morgan with the 11th overall pick in the 2001 NFL Draft. The University of Miami alum played in 59 career games and produced 390 tackles, seven sacks, five interceptions, 17 pass breakups and three forced fumbles in his career. He made his lone Pro Bowl in 2004.

Morgan, in a lot of ways, is a hometown hire. He spent basically all of his NFL playing career — outside of one training camp with the New Orleans Saints in 2009 — with the franchise. A native of the Philadelphia area, he also ascended up the executive ranks in Carolina after returning to the organization just three years ago.

Morgan has a feel for both the past and the present of the organization as he guides it into the future. He will need to hit the ground running to make the most of this opportunity.

‘We weren’t going to settle’: How Panthers executives collaborated on offseason moves

With Morgan now in charge, here are five tasks (in chronological order) for the new GM to check off on his to-do list during his first offseason in charge:

1. Help hire a head coach that shares Morgan’s vision

With Morgan on board, the Panthers can look for a new head coach who will be in lockstep with the top personnel voice in the building. Tepper and advisory firm, Sportsology, are deep into their search for the new top coach, but the addition of Morgan can help solidify the process.

Morgan has ties to Panthers defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero and special teams coordinator Chris Tabor, Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Dave Canales and Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, but that doesn’t mean Carolina should limit itself to the buddy system. The Panthers have interviewed 11 candidates, and the majority of those coaches should appeal to the leadership council.

The most important dynamic for the team — even more so than the head coach-quarterback bond — is the GM-head coach relationship. Morgan and his future head coach need to share a philosophy on team building, regardless of who has final say on the depth chart.

Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper, center, speaks with former general manager Bill Polian, left and senior defensive assistant Dom Capers, right, prior to the team’s game against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, November 19, 2023 at Bank of America Stadium.
Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper, center, speaks with former general manager Bill Polian, left and senior defensive assistant Dom Capers, right, prior to the team’s game against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, November 19, 2023 at Bank of America Stadium.

2. Establish boundaries between front office, coaching staff ... and ownership

While Morgan and the eventual head coach should share a mind toward roster building, there needs to be a line drawn in the sand when it comes to job responsibilities. The personnel department should handle offseason roster decisions, while the coaches should coach the players they are given.

Input from both sides is important, but the reality is that the scouting staff is doing the majority of the leg work on evaluations and their expertise should be trusted. The same could be said for the depth chart with the coaching staff, as those coaches are working with the players within their system.

If the GM trusts his personnel department’s evaluations, Morgan should be the final say on free agency and the draft. If the coaching staff thinks a player fits their scheme and/or system better than a hand-picked player from the front office, then the coaches should win out with said player’s usage.

Collaboration doesn’t need to be an every-task function. At some point, leaders need to lead within their functions and make important decisions on their own. As learned during the Matt Rhule and Frank Reich eras, the GM — when given the power to do so — needs to assert himself when it comes to roster movement.

Tepper, in turn, should respect his new GM’s gumption and support the exec’s viewpoint. Tepper promoted Morgan for a reason.

3. Figure out Brian Burns’ future

Morgan has an immediate tough task on his hands. Pass rusher Brian Burns is set to become a free agent in March, and no reasonable franchise would let the two-time Pro Bowler walk for nothing.

Burns and the Panthers, under Fitterer’s leadership, failed to reach an agreement on a contract extension throughout an entire year of negotiations. Morgan will need to rectify that situation before the start of free agency or risk losing a huge chunk of available cap space with a franchise tag designation.

Last year’s franchise tag cost for an outside linebacker was roughly $21 million. That sum would hit the Panthers’ books immediately, so the team wouldn’t be able to spend that money on the open market.

Negotiating a contract extension would greatly lower Burns’ cap hit and provide relief for spending during free agency. While Burns is coming off a down year statistically, he is only 25 and considered among the ascending pass rushers in the league. Both sides will need to work out a fair deal to make the team better.

If a deal can’t be reached, Morgan would need to weigh the possibility of tagging and trading Burns. The return wouldn’t be as notable as past offers for Burns, but the new GM wouldn’t have the baggage of a major missed opportunity to weigh on his decision-making process.

Along with Burns, Morgan will need to sort through the team’s 21 pending free agents. That group includes multi-purpose linebacker Frankie Luvu, who is due for a large contract as well.

4. Make life easier on Bryce Young

Morgan was an important part of the leadership group that selected Young with the first overall pick last year. But now, Morgan has to make the ecosystem around Young much better.

It’ll be a tall task, but the top exec needs to filter talent into the offense — from the line to the skill positions — through free agency and the draft. Outside of wideout Adam Thielen and running back Chuba Hubbard, the offense is largely an empty cupboard of a depth chart with several question marks at major positions.

Young needs worthwhile protection and weapons immediately. He can’t be forced to undergo another season of consistent drops and relentless pressure, and poor outlets to avoid both play-by-play letdowns.

Will Morgan want to move left tackle Ikem Ekwonu to guard? Can the new top personnel man identify cost-effective upgrades at tight end, running back and wide receiver? Is there a top playmaker that will avoid the franchise tag and be the apple of the Panthers’ eye?

Morgan will be busy establishing his vision this offseason, and he will need to have a plan beyond a one-year rebuild. Still, the first offseason on the job needs to set the foundation for the future.

5. Figure out a way to manage the draft without a full deck of premium picks

The Panthers had the worst-performing roster in the league last season. While their last-place finish was a nightmare, they won’t have the benefit of the first overall pick — or even a first-round pick — due to the trade up to snag Young at the top of the draft last offseason.

Morgan will need to be shrewd with Carolina’s collection of draft picks this year, even with one arm tied behind his back in the top three rounds. The Panthers’ incumbent personnel department will have already done months of research on the draft class, and that information will be used to identify the top talent entering the league this offseason.

Following free agency, the Panthers will need to have a sound draft plan to make up for the squad’s lack of resources. Carolina could decide to add draft picks in a trade or simply attack each round with a shared philosophy on addressing roster needs. Morgan needs to set the strategic tone, one way or another.