Off to a disappointing 1-5 start to the 2012 season, the Carolina Panthers made a significant change to their organization on Monday morning, relieving longtime general manager Marty Hurney of his duties.
"This was an extremely difficult decision," Panthers owner/found Jerry Richardson said. "Marty made every effort to bring success to the Panthers and took the team to a Super Bowl and two NFC championship games. Unfortunately, we have not enjoyed the success we hoped for in recent years. I have the greatest respect and admiration for Marty and will always appreciate the way he tirelessly served the organization."
After inheriting a 1-15 team in 2002, the Panthers have gone 80-86 since Hurney took over in 2002. Under his leadership, the Panthers advanced to the postseason three times (2003, 2005, 2008) and were 1-2 in NFC championship games. The Panthers lost to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVIII. In its 18th season in existence, the Panthers are still seeking back-to-back winning seasons — the best the Panthers have done is have back-to-back non-losing seasons twice (2005-06, 2008-09) and their 9-29 record since the start of the 2010 season is the worst in the NFL.
"I am very fortunate to have been a part of one of the best organizations in the NFL since 1998," Hurney said. "As general manager I will always regret not helping us win the Super Bowl or having back-to-back winning seasons. I hope this change starts accomplishing the direction to those goals.
"I understand this decision by Mr. Richardson and will always have an extremely close relationship with him. I consider him the best owner in the NFL. I am responsible for everybody in coaching, the players, the scouts and everybody in football operations. After six weeks, we are 1-5 coming off a 6-10 season."
Contributing to that have been some questionable contracts handed out by the Hurney-led front office. In 2009, the Panthers signed quarterback Jake Delhomme, who was 34 years old at the time, to a five-year extension that included $20 million in guaranteed money, $12.7 million of which was paid out after he was released and playing for the Cleveland Browns, while Julius Peppers was allowed to depart as a free agent following the 2009 season. In 2011, the Panthers signed running back DeAngelo Williams to a five-year, $43 million contract following the lockout that contained $21 million in guaranteed money. Williams is clearly in the coaching staff's doghouse, as evidenced by his five snaps during Sunday's 19-14 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. Williams is not the only running back that Hurney's administration has paid. On March 19, free-agent fullback Mike Tolbert received a four-year, $10 million contract that contained $4.2 million and, on Aug. 13, the Panthers extended the contract of Jonathan Stewart to the tune of five years and $36.5 million, $23 million of which was guaranteed.
In addition to odd decisions on where to spend free-agent dollars, there have been misses on high draft picks. The Panthers used their first-round pick in the 2009 NFL draft to move back into the first round in 2008, selecting Jeff Otah with the 19th overall pick. Otah played in 29 games, but struggled with injuries and was released after a trade to the New York Jets in July was voided when Otah failed to pass a physical. The Panthers burned their 2010 first-round pick when they traded it to the San Francisco 49ers for picks in the second- and fourth-round picks in the 2009 NFL draft. With the second-round pick, the Panthers selected Everette Brown, an undersized pass-rusher who had six sacks in 28 games before he was released. Brown is currently a street free agent. The Panthers selected running back Mike Goodson in the fourth round. After rushing for 501 yards and three touchdowns and catching 43 passes for 329 yards, Goodson was traded to the Oakland Raiders for backup offensive lineman Bruce Campbell during the 2012 offseason.
The Panthers missed wildly on quarterback Jimmy Clausen, their first pick (No. 48 overall) of the 2010 NFL draft who is now No. 3 on the depth chart and hasn't appeared in a regular-season game since his rookie season. The Panthers' 2010 draft class also included a Top 100 (No. 89) pick on Armanti Edwards, a quarterback at Appalachian State who has was moved to wide receiver. In 25 career games, Edwards has one reception for 12 yards, logging just 14 total snaps (12 offense, two on special teams) in the first six games of the 2012 season. Other notable misses in recent drafts include defensive tackles Corvey Irvin (No. 89 overall in 2009), who is currently with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Terrell McClain (No. 65 overall in 2011), who is a free agent after spending a week with the New England Patriots.
In terms of cash spending, the Panthers are currently among the Top 5 teams in the National Football League, thanks largely to the extensions signed by Williams, Charles Johnson, Jon Beason, Ryan Kalil, James Anderson and Charles Godfrey before or during the 2011 season. Between the extensions, and paying No. 1 overall pick Cam Newton, the Panthers spent nearly $130 million in signing bonuses in 2011, with more than $46 million of that amount deferred to the 2012 league year. Current projections for the 2013 season have the Panthers No. 1 in terms of cash spending and their $132.9 million in salary cap commitments next season is the fourth-highest amount, nearly $12 million over the projected league-wide 2013 salary cap number of $121 million.
Based on the candidates who interviewed for GM openings in January, the last round of GM hires, possible candidates for the Panthers' job may include Miami Dolphins assistant GM Brian Gaine, Arizona Cardinals director of player personnel Steve Keim (a North Carolina State alum) and Oakland Raiders director of personnel Joey Clinkscales, who spent the previous 17 seasons with the Jets and is a native of Ashville, N.C. Atlanta Falcons director of player personnel David Caldwell, who broke into the NFL as a scouting assistant with the Panthers in 1996, is also a player the Panthers' brass may consider.
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