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Marty Hurney doomed by bad drafts, signings; Panthers staff, roster on notice

By Will Brinson | NFL Writer

In the 2011 NFL Draft, Marty Hurney hit the home run to end all home runs when he ignored the critics and took Cam Newton with the first pick. Unfortunately for Hurney, drafting Newton was the lone bright spot among his personnel choices the last few years, and, with even Newton struggling in his second year, his draft ineptitude cost him his job on Monday.

So what went wrong? Well, a lot, mainly the fact that Hurney invested most of his resources into the wrong positions and often the wrong players at those incorrect positions. And when did it go wrong? I'm personally of the opinion that everything went sour for Hurney on Jan. 10, 2008.

That's the date that Jake Delhomme went on an interception spree in Charlotte, throwing five picks as the 12-4 Panthers lost to the Cardinals in the playoffs. In the previous 2008 draft, Hurney also gave up a first-round pick to nab Jeff Otah. That wouldn't do him any favors down the road, as he compounded the mistake by continuing to trade up and select players who weren't good. One could make the argument that the only good draft selection over the next three years was Newton. Picks still on Carolina's roster are highlighted in bright Panthers blue:

2009
Player
Position
Round
Overall Pick
Everette Brown
DE
2
43
S
2
59
Corey Irvin
DT
3
93
RB
4
111
Tony Fiammetta
FB
4
128
T
5
163
CB
7
216
2010
Player
Position
Round
Overall
QB
2
48
WR
3
78
WR
3
89
Eric Norwood
LB
4
124
DE
6
175
David Gettis
WR
6
198
CB
6
202
Tony Pike
QB
6
204
RJ Stanford
CB
7
223
CB
7
249
2011
Player
Position
Round
Overall
Cam Newton
QB
1
1
Terrell McClain
DT
3
65
DT
3
97
Brandon Hogan
DB
4
98
WR
5
132
Lawrence Wilson
LB
6
166
Zachary Williams
OL
6
203
Lee Ziemba
OL
7
244

There's a very reasonable argument to make that, over the course of three years, Hurney made one single quality selection, that of Newton first overall. I mean, look at those drafts. They're horrible.

Carolina didn't retain many of the picks and only a few of the ones they did keep are viable starters. No one's perfect when it comes to drafting, but you can't whiff on that many chances to acquire talent and expect your team to compete in the NFL. There are simply too many other people making smart decisions to win that way.

That Jimmy Clausen and Armanti Edwards are still on the roster only highlights what the Panthers gave up to get them: Clausen cost a 2010 first-round pick and Edwards cost a 2011 second-round pick. If you tried to package the two together and move them today, you might fetch a seventh-round pick in return. Might.

None of this highlights potential problems with the 2012 draft, or the horrible hindsight nature of the 2008 draft (trading a first-rounder to move up and get Jeff Otah).

Of course, if drafting bad players was Hurney's only fault, he might still have his job. But Hurney, over the past few years, made some terrible decisions when it came to free agency.

Olindo Mare is probably the worst example. He's was an aging kicker at the time and he was given a four-year, $12-million deal. He lasted one year. Hurney is apparently in charge of Wikipedia, where they're pretending his run in Carolina never happened.

Charles Johnson is extremely upset by the Hurney firing.

It's hard to blame him: Hurney gave Johnson a $76-million contract coming out of the lockout. When Johnson was asked about his new contract, he laughed and said, "Could you have turned that down?" Exactly.

But the real bee in everyone's bonnet when it comes to Hurney was the acquisition of homegrown running back and linebacker talent. DeAngelo Williams was given a five-year, $43-million deal with $21 million guaranteed before the 2011 season. Jonathan Stewart signed a six-year, $37.8 million extension with $22.5 million in guaranteed money before the 2012 season. Jon Beason got a six-year, $51.3-million deal with $25 million guaranteed in July of 2011. Thomas Davis got five years, $36.5 million in July of 2011. It's been reworked more times than his knee, but that's besides the point. (Or maybe it is the point.)

There are defensible arguments for some of those contracts, individually and in a vacuum. But you don't run a football team inside a vacuum and the whole point of a team is that it's comprised of many different contracts. Besides, it's not like people who analyze football will wake up tomorrow and realize the NFL is moving away from the running game and that you need pass-rushers in order to compete defensively. This is old news, guys, but Hurney apparently didn't get the memo.

Investing in Johnson, a very talented pass-rusher, was smart. (Ironically, Johnson was a third-round pick in 2007, back when Hurney was hitting home runs in April.) But he was given far too much money when he can't be nearly as effective when the rest of the defensive line lacks talent, which Carolina's does.

The linebacking corps is stout, but that just means a lot of tackles when people are running through the defensive line. Carolina's never had a great second cornerback -- though they did let Richard Marshall go -- and hasn't had a great second wide receiver since Muhsin Muhammad.

Allocating assets to the running game and to linebackers -- at the expense of fortifying your offensive and defensive lines -- isn't going to keep you employed in the NFL.

Drafting a great young quarterback is fantastic, but you have to give him the proper weapons. And you have to put a coaching staff in place that will help him grow as a player. Ron Rivera and his staff should not be sleeping well for the next few weeks; a poor end to this season and it's quite likely they could be out the door as well.

And giving someone the proper weapons, by the way, doesn't involve overpaying for a pair of running backs and then only giving them 382 carries -- combined! -- since the start of 2011. That's like buying a really nice beach house and spending all your time in the garage setting $100 bills on fire.

It's been a stunning dropoff this year for the Panthers, who looked like a playoff sleeper after an inspiring six-win season in 2011. (That six wins inspires people also says something about the state of affairs in Charlotte, but whatever.) Carolina's made some small strides on defense in 2012, but the dearth of talent and lack of depth make it impossible to improve rapidly. And with the offense falling off a cliff, it makes folks wonder if it's time to blow things up and start all over (again).

Whether or not it just occurred to Jerry Richardson that the Panthers roster is a trainwreck is unknown. But Hurney lost his job on Monday and it's not difficult to justify Richardson's decision. That doesn't make it easy; Hurney, by all accounts, is a great person and he's had success with the Panthers for many years.

But his mistakes caught up to him and suddenly a franchise that was on the brink of potentially doing something special finds itself in the basement of the NFL, once again.

Ryan Kalil's ad in the Charlotte Observer guaranteeing a Super Bowl victory feels like years ago. And should serve as a reminder to the people on the Panthers coaching staff and the players on the roster that right now, nothing is guaranteed.

 
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