The good news for the Panthers is that the NFL mobilized quickly to interview suspended-with-pay interim G.M. Marty Hurney after a vague (and withdrawn) allegation of domestic violence emerged last week. The bad news for the Panthers is that there continues to be no news about Hurney’s status.
The Panthers, as a practical matter, currently have no General Manager as the clock ticks toward key offseason dates, from the opening of the franchise-tag window to the closing of the franchise-tag window to the two-day pre-free agency tampering period to the start of free agency and launch of the new league year. Teams need to decide which impending free agents of their own they want to keep, which restricted or exclusive-rights free agents shoulder be tendered (and at what level), which free agents from other teams should be pursued, whether to be aggressive and overpay, whether to wait it out and pay less, whether to attempt to engineer trades, and whether to be receptive to teams interested in making a trade.
Then there’s a little thing known as the Scouting Combine, which opens in only two weeks. That’s where incoming rookies are poked and prodded and pressed for answers, and where plenty of pre-free-agency planning (via tampering) occurs in meetings between teams and agents.
It’s believed that Panthers director of college scouting Jeff Morrow currently is handling the draft and its preparations, and there’s not much more to be done as it relates to the team’s upcoming free agents. (Decisions may still be need to be made regarding veterans who may be squeezed to take less money.) All things considered, it’s fairly important to have a General Manager in place during the months of February, March, and April. Currently, the Panthers don’t — and it’s not clear when they will.
The Panthers could hire a new G.M. whenever they want, and they have a trio of external candidates for the job (Lake Dawson, Martin Mayhew, and Jimmy Raye). Or they could wait for Hurney to be reinstated. Until the NFL reinstates him, however, waiting carries with it the reality that, until he’s back, the Panthers will continue to have no General Manager.
The facts surely drive each of these cases, and the facts of this case are, put simply, that allegations of domestic violence made in a court proceeding that unfolded without Hurney’s side being heard or presented resulted in a judicial finding of no evidence of wrongdoing. If the court system can reach that kind of conclusion within a matter of days, why can’t the NFL?
Paid leave, an amorphous, post-Ray Rice tool for helping the NFL prop up its own P.R. interests by removing someone accused of domestic violence from the workplace, should only be used when there’s reason to believe that the allegations of misconduct are real and credible. For now, there’s no real or credible evidence that Hurney did anything wrong.
Unless the league has something clear and concrete, the league should let Hurney go back to work on behalf of a team that already is trying to make plans for the 2018 with full knowledge of the reality that, sooner or later, the Panthers will have a new owner and, quite possibly, an entirely new front office.