It’s 2012. Carolina fans are waving goodbye to General Manager Marty Hurney and everyone seems happy that he’s been fired. He handed out a lot of money to players that many fans felt weren’t worth it. He was a notoriously bad negotiator. He was good at drafting in the first round but missed on most players in the mid-late rounds. He made bad trades in the draft. (See Everette Brown and Armanti Edwards) He was far too loyal to the aging veterans instead of signing players that injected youth into the team. That gave fans ammunition to hate Marty Hurney.
Fast forward to 2017. Dave Gettleman gets fired as the Panthers’ General Manager on July 17th. Within a day, former Panthers owner, Jerry Richardson, hired Marty Hurney to be the interim General Manager. Some fans were livid, some fans shouted that Hurney is the one who drafted the core of the team. Carolina fans didn’t know how this would play out. Everyone was looking forward to seeing who the team would hire to be the full time GM. The first thing Hurney did was re-sign Pro Bowl guard Trai Turner to a four year deal that was worth $45 million. Fans were thinking that Hurney was up to his old tricks, even though Turner’s contract was cap friendly in 2017, worth only $3.9 million. In hindsight, a back loaded contract for a Pro Bowl guard seems to be a great deal.
The next thing Hurney did was correct a problem that Gettleman failed to address. Greg Olsen wanted to restructure his contract to make more money, since he had just completed the best three year stint of any tight end in league history, as he had three consecutive 1,000 yard seasons. Hurney decided to add incentives to Olsen’s contract for the following year. Unfortunately, Olsen ended up getting hurt in 2017, didn’t make the extra money and Hurney looked like a genius.
As if that wasn’t enough, Hurney then re-signed linebacker Thomas Davis to a one year deal worth $6.7 million. That was thought to be a reasonably low contract for Davis, who was still playing like a Pro Bowler at age 34. To most fans, Hurney seemed to have learned how to negotiate contracts and was doing a solid job. There were still some fans, however, that were not sold. They thought Hurney shouldn’t have given contracts to the older players. Hurney wasn’t done…
On Halloween, just before the trade deadline, Hurney shocked Panther Nation by trading wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin to the Buffalo Bills for a third round pick and a seventh round pick. Benjamin had struggled with his weight in the offseason and came into camp overweight. During the season, his play was less than stellar. He averaged 59 yards per game in eight weeks. Panther fans started to see that Hurney meant business.
Some other notable player transactions during the 2017 offseason for Marty Hurney:
• G Greg Van Roten Signed
• DE Bryan Cox Signed (from practice squad)
• DE Efe Obada Signed
• CB Kevon Seymour Acquired via trade
• FB Alex Armah Signed (from practice squad)
• S Jairus Byrd Signed
Those aren’t splash free agent signings by any means, but they were solid signings for only having around $5 million in cap space. Carolina went 11-5 in 2017, prompting fans to say that Hurney learned from his mistakes. There were still fans that wanted interim General Manager Hurney gone, and wanted the team to hire a different GM.
On February 4, 2018, Marty Hurney was put on paid administrative leave for violating the league’s personal conduct rules, as his estranged wife made accusations against him. With no evidence that he did anything wrong, Hurney was reinstated by the team. Then, on February 21, 2018, Hurney was hired to be the full-time GM for the Panthers. Hurney was back where he belonged without an interim tag beside his name.
The 2018 offseason was fairly successful on paper, as Hurney had a little more cap space to sign core guys at positions of need. He added a little more space by releasing the running back he drafted, Jonathan Stewart, who is Carolina’s all time rushing leader. That was a tough decision, but that was just the start for Marty. Then, with the wide receiver position being in question, Hurney decided to trade for speedy veteran Torrey Smith, whose $5 million contract was somewhat low for a deep threat. Smith’s contract was also intriguing because there was no guaranteed money involved, so Carolina could cut ties if needed and they’d owe him nothing. Next on Hurney’s agenda was to address the defensive line. Hurney gave future Hall-of-Famer Julius Peppers a contract extension, so that Peppers could retire as a Panther. Hurney then signed Pro Bowl defensive tackle Dontari Poe to a three year contract worth $28 million. This was considered a relatively big free agent signing, since Poe was statistically better than Star Lotulelei, who Hurney let walk in free agency.
Hurney went on to make more low-key signings that looked to be solid. Wide receiver Jarius Wright, who was dubbed “Mr. Third Down” in Minnesota, signed with Carolina. Former Viking offensive coordinator, Norv Turner, had something to do with that. Hurney then signed strong safety Da’Norris Searcy to a two year contract. That signing looked to be solid, since Searcy was a starting caliber safety. He lost his job in Tennessee, but Hurney thought the change of scenery would help him. That same day, Hurney signed cornerback Ross Cockrell to a two year deal. This was significant because Carolina needed a corner to pair with starter James Bradberry and Cockrell was the number one zone corner in the league in 2017. This was an under the radar signing that could have a major impact. Hurney ended the month of March by signing guard Jeremiah Sirles to compete for the left guard spot, which was left vacant when Hurney let Andrew Norwell walk.
Other notable pre-draft transactions:
• P Michael Palardy Contract Extension
• C Tyler Larsen Contract Extension
• QB Tyler Heineke Claimed off waivers
• TE Greg Olsen Contract Extension
On April 26th, Hurney had his first draft during his second stint with the Panthers. Carolina had the 24th pick and the consensus pick from the fans was cornerback Mike Hughes. Carolina spent the most time with Hughes throughout the pre-draft process, which is why almost everyone thought that’s who they’d pick. During the draft, Hurney watched the best wide receivers, Calvin Ridley and DJ Moore, fall. Neither were on Hurney’s realistic draft board because he didn’t think either one would be there. When pick 24 came up, Hurney all but jumped to the phone to select DJ Moore, who was the best route runner and best at getting yards after the catch. Panther Nation couldn’t have been happier. Neither could Norv Turner.
Other 2018 Carolina draftees:
• Round 2- CB Donte Jackson
(Check out the 4our Man Rush’s Film Room Episode of Jackson here)
• Round 3- S Rashaan Gaulden
(Check out the 4our Man Rush Film Room Episode of Gaulden here)
• Round 4a- TE Ian Thomas
• Round 4b- DE Marquis Haynes
• Round 5- LB Jermaine Carter
• Round 7a- LB Andre Smith
• Round 7B- DT Kendrick Norton
It’s hard to grade a draft in one year, but this class seemed to address a lot of needs. Especially on the defensive side of the ball. However, Hurney wasn’t done upgrading the offense. On May 7th, Carolina signed Pro Bowl running back CJ Anderson to a one year deal. This signing looked to be solid, since Anderson was a bruising back that could compliment Christian McCaffrey’s finesse running style. Panther fans rejoiced at the thought of Anderson joining the team. Over the next couple of months, Hurney made more small free agent signings to round out the roster, which is what all General Managers do.
After a string of injuries to nearly every position, Hurney made arguably the most impactful signing of his career. On September 27th, Carolina signed Pro Bowl safety Eric Reid to a one year contract. This signing was brought on by the injury to Da’Norris Searcy. The Reid signing wasn’t received well by a lot of fans due to Reid’s protest during the national anthem. Reid was, and still is, protesting racial injustices amongst the black community. Most teams shied away from Reid due to the media circus that would likely follow him. However, Hurney jumped at the chance to sign Reid because he was the best available safety. On paper, this Panthers team looked to be at least a 12 win team. As things in the NFL go, the season didn’t go as expected.
The 2018 season started and it looked promising after winning six out of eight games, even with all the injuries that were mounting up. Then, Pittsburgh happened. Cam Newton was injured during the game after a hit by TJ Watt, and the season crumbled. Carolina was viewed as a playoff caliber team. Now, they looked like a dumpster fire. To make matters worse, they released CJ Anderson, which made them the laughing stock of the NFL, after he did so well for the Rams. To close out the season, Carolina lost seven of their next eight games, and Panther Nation was again let down. It wasn’t really Hurney’s fault, but he felt as if he had let the team down. Hurney had a pretty successful offseason, but it wouldn’t hold a candle to what he would do in 2019.
In January, Hurney did something that was very hard for him. After a 14 year stint with the Panthers, Thomas Davis was told that he isn’t being re-signed. This was a hard pill to swallow for Panther Nation, as Davis has been the embodiment of the Carolina mantra Keep Pounding. This did, however, show fans that Hurney isn’t afraid to make those decisions anymore. He wasn’t going to sign a guy based purely on loyalty. That’s how a GM should be. This wouldn’t be his only veteran cut in 2019.
That same week, Hurney re-signed two role players, Efe Obada and Chris Manhertz. Obada was fairly effective in rotation at defensive end, and Manhertz is a good blocking tight end who was a part of one of the best plays of 2018. Then, in February, Hurney signed safety Eric Reid to a three year contract worth a little under $8 million per year. Hurney wanted to get a contract done before free agency started because he felt that Reid could get more money than he could offer. Again, Hurney made a tough decision by releasing Captain Munnerlyn in February, since his play didn’t match his salary. This move created $2 million in cap space for Carolina, and Hurney knew how to utilize that money.
In March, after re-signing a few of their own players, Hurney set his sights on free agency. After Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil retired, Hurney knew the team needed to replace him with someone that had experience. Yes, they had scouted a few centers in the pre-draft process, but Hurney was about to make a move that would surprise fans. On March 14th, the start of free agency, Carolina signed the top free agent center, Matt Paradis, to a three year deal. Fans, and Cam Newton, couldn’t have been happier. Paradis was ranked as the second best center in the league two out of the last three years, according to Pro Football Focus. Fans were already starting to feel the Hurn.
That same day, Hurney pulled off another big move. All Pro guard Daryl Williams was written off by most fans, as being gone due to his free agent status. Everyone thought he’d command at least $10 million per year in salary, which would’ve been good enough to garner us a third round compensatory pick in 2020. However, Hurney surprised fans when he signed Williams to a one year deal worth $6 million. The Panthers are serious about protecting Cam, and they proved it with this signing.
Next on Hurney’s agenda was to create some more cap room. Carolina released injured left tackle, Matt Kalil, and designated him as a post June 1st cut. That means they wouldn’t get that money until June. The Matt Kalil release would give Carolina an additional $7.5 million in cap space. Kalil wasn’t as bad as some fans thought he was, but he also wasn’t the answer at left tackle. The general thought now was, Carolina would likely move Taylor Moton to left tackle and put Daryl Williams back on the right side. Moton did well on the left in limited action earlier in the season.
A week after signing Paradis and Williams, Hurney shocked everyone again. This time it was on the defensive side of the ball. He signed linebacker Bruce Irvin to a one year contract. This was a big signing, since fans were concerned about the lack of pass rush in 2018. In 2018, Irvin played for both Oakland and Atlanta. His stats were decent, as he had 6.5 sacks combined. His tackle count was somewhat low, but that’s due to him playing 23% of the defensive snaps for both teams. Hurney knew that Irvin can still be productive if given more reps. Irvin will also serve as a mentor to the younger pass rushers that Carolina could potentially draft or sign.
After claiming tackle Dillon Gordon off waivers from Kansas City and signing a few more camp body players, Hurney turned his attention to players from the, now debunked, Alliance of American Football (AAF). Carolina signed six players from the AAF pre-draft, to get players with experience to round out the bottom of the roster. One player in particular, wide receiver and return man Rashad Ross, stood out as a player that has a real shot at making the team. Ross played in eight games with the Arizona Hotshots and had 583 receiving yards and a league-high seven touchdowns. Ross could make the Panthers 53 man roster based on his experience as a return man. Ross is a speedy receiver, as he was clocked at 4.26 while running the 40 yard dash in the pre-draft process years ago.
As if Carolina didn’t have enough players in the wide receiver room, Hurney brought former Patriot Chris Hogan in for a visit. Hurney signed Hogan to a one year deal, adding more veteran experience to the team. Hogan has been fairly productive over the last couple seasons and has won two Super Bowls with the Patriots. It’s worth noting that, since 2016, Hogan ranks second in post-season receiving yardage with 542 yards. He’s also tied for first in post-season receiving touchdowns with four. This is another under the radar signing by Hurney, that could be a key to their success.
Other notable transactions:
• DT Kyle Love Signed
• RB Cameron Artis-Payne Signed
• S Colin Jones Signed
Throughout this entire process, Hurney, the scouting department and the entire Panthers’ front office had been scouting and visiting with potential draft picks. Fans knew that there were still some positions that needed to be addressed, mainly left tackle and pass rusher. With the talk of Carolina’s defense becoming a more hybrid style and using a lot of 3-4 looks (For a thorough breakdown of Carolina’s new defense by the 4our Man Rush, click here), some fans were sold that either DE/OLB Montez Sweat or DE/OLB Brian Burns would be the pick in the first round, if available. The other half of the fan base wanted a left tackle. This split Panther Nation right down the middle.
On draft night, it couldn’t have went any better for Marty Hurney. All of the players that Hurney coveted were there at pick 16. Hurney took arguably the best player in Brian Burns. Burns is a player that has the potential to turn this defense around and be a cornerstone for years to come. According to Hurney, Burns was at the top of their draft board and they were shocked he was there. Burns’ skillset fits well in the Panthers’ revamped defense. (Learn more about Burns and the other 2019 draft picks here) Check out the 4our Man Rush’s Film Room Episode about Brian Burns here.
Hurney had also been looking at offensive tackles in the pre-draft process. One of which, he highly coveted. On day one, Hurney was on the phone but couldn’t make a trade. Day two started with Hurney on the phone yet again. He was trying to trade up for Greg Little, an offensive tackle from Ole Miss. As fate would have it, the Seattle Seahawks were looking to trade down from pick 37. They had a number of trade partners, but they picked Carolina. Carolina chose left tackle Greg Little, a guy who they had pondered drafting at pick 16. The Panthers offensive line was immediately upgraded. Hurney was on cloud nine.
Other 2019 Carolina draftees:
Round 3- QB Will Grier
Round 4- DE/OLB Christian Miller
(Check out the 4our Man Rush’s Film Room Episode on Miller here)
Round 5- RB Jordan Scarlett
Round 6- OT Dennis Daley
Round 7- WR Terry Godwin
On paper, this could very well be Marty Hurney’s best ever draft. Obviously it’s too early to know, since they haven’t taken a snap yet. This could also be Hurney’s best offseason. His moves had been very precise up to this point, and he balanced his attention to all three phases of the team.
As if Carolina didn’t have enough wide receivers already, Hurney signed former Viking Aldrick Robinson. Robinson isn’t an elite receiver, but in 2018 he had a knack for finding the end zone. Robinson only had 17 catches for the year, but 5 of them were touchdowns. Robinson is another speedster that can stretch the field and get behind defenses in a hurry. Another solid role player with potential had been signed by Marty Hurney. The pieces for success are in place and Panther fans can’t wait until training camp to get a look at the 2019 team. Little did Panther Nation know, this team was about to get a whole lot better.
Before the 2019 NFL draft, Panthers linebacker, Luke Kuechly, restructured his contract, which freed up $7.24 million in cap space. Fans immediately thought that Hurney did this to sign safety Tre Boston, since the thought was that they didn’t have anyone good to play along side Eric Reid. Carolina did try to sign Boston, but it didn’t work out. Around the same time, news broke out of Tampa, Florida that six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle, Gerald McCoy, was on the trade block. New Buccaneers head coach, Bruce Arians, didn’t commit to keeping McCoy during an interview and the rumors started to fly. The media pegged the Cleveland Browns as a potential trade partner for McCoy, but nothing ever came of it. On May 20th, the Bucs announced that they had released Gerald McCoy, which saved them around $13 million in cap space. McCoy came out and said that he wanted to play for a contender, and again, the Cleveland Browns were the first team everyone thought of due to their enormous salary cap number. McCoy did indeed visit Cleveland, but left without a deal. At this point, Carolina fans didn’t even think it was possible to get McCoy, but everyone wanted him. Next, McCoy visited Baltimore for two days.
Everyone thought that it was between those two teams until Ian Rappoport reported that a third was interested in McCoy. It was the Carolina Panthers. Panthers’ fans were in disbelief that Hurney was on the verge of possibly getting a top five defensive tackle. Many fans still didn’t think it was possible. McCoy left Baltimore without a contract and he was on his way to Charlotte to meet with the Panthers’ brass. In the days leading up to the McCoy meeting, Marty Hurney convinced wide receiver, Torrey Smith, to take a $2 million pay cut, to help add funds to the cap in case McCoy wanted to sign. McCoy came in for a visit on Thursday and stayed until Friday. He stated that he was going to think about it over the weekend. On Monday, it was announced that McCoy had chosen the Panthers as his next team. Panther Nation went crazy. Marty Hurney had pulled off the unthinkable. He had signed another top tier defensive tackle to pair with KK Short. McCoy can play inside and outside on the defensive line, and has been one of the most dominant defensive tackles in the NFL over the last six seasons. He’s the only defensive tackle that has produced 6 sacks ever year for the past six years. Having McCoy and Short together with Dontari Poe at nose tackle in the 3-4 looks could be the most dominant front that the Panthers have ever had. Carolina now has the front seven of Short, Poe, McCoy, Addison, Thompson, Kuechly and Irvin/Burns. All hail Marty Hurney! Make sure to check out the 4our Man Rush’s Film Room Episode of Gerald McCoy here to learn more.
So Marty Hurney showed Panther Nation that he, along with the rest of the front office, is in win-now mode. Carolina has the potential to have their best ever defense (barring injury). Marty Hurney had a plan in place and exceeded his own expectations. Time will tell if these moves will translate in wins, but it looks to be dominating on paper. To recap, this offseason, Marty Hurney:
• Re-signed S Eric Reid
• Signed C Matt Paradis
• Re-signed OT Daryl Williams
• Signed DE/OLB Bruce Irvin
• Signed WR Chris Hogan
• Re-signed DT Kyle Love
• Drafted DE/OLB Brian Burns, LT Greg Little, QB Will Grier and DE/OLB Christian Miller in the first four rounds
• Restructured Luke Kuechly’s contract to gain cap space
• Convinced Torrey Smith to take a pay cut for added funds
• Signed WR Aldrick Robinson
• Signed DT Gerald McCoy
**EDIT- After a few months of courtship, Hurney has signed safety, Tre Boston, to solidify the secondary. Huge news! Even more to be hyped about.**
How can anyone not be hyped at the pieces that Marty Hurney has put in place since his return? In the last three months, Marty Hurney has possibly put together the single greatest off-season of his career. This is a 180 degree turn from how he was viewed prior to his termination in 2012. What say you, Panther Nation? Are you feeling the Hurn?!?! Hopefully this team will bring a Lombardi trophy home to the Carolinas. Make sure you check out the 4our Man Rush’s weekly podcast for all the Panthers info you need. Also, check out the 4our Man Rush’s YouTube channel for Film Reviews and breakdowns of everything Panthers related. #KeepPounding #4MR #WhatARush