Carolina Panthers

Q&A: Carolina Panthers GM Marty Hurney on free agency and the upcoming NFL draft

Carolina Panthers general manager Marty Hurney addressed a small group of media on Tuesday afternoon, between appointments at the NFL’s annual league meetings.

In his first public comments to media since last spring, Hurney shared his thoughts on the Panthers’ recent moves in free agency and on the upcoming NFL draft.

Q. It’s been awhile. So, can you take us through everything, from the end of the season... to how you’ve gone about putting pieces in place that you feel will make the team successful?

A. Well, I think every year it’s the same sort of blueprint. You have to make hard decisions. So you have to evaluate your own roster and decide what changes you’re going to make on that roster. Obviously this year we had some tough decisions. A guy like (linebacker) Thomas Davis was very hard. We thought the best thing to do when we made that decision was to let him know as soon as possible. So you make those hard decisions, and then I think you want to have a plan of what you want to accomplish in that offseason.

Last year, we said that we wanted to increase the speed and athleticism at our skill positions. This year, we came in with the retirement of (center) Ryan Kalil, with the uncertainty of some of the positions on the offensive line, with the loss of guys like (defensive end) Julius Peppers, and just knowing that we have to increase our pass rush. We came in with an emphasis on offensive line and defensive line. Not just pass rush, but protecting the passer and rushing the passer. It’s an offensive league, and on offense, it all starts with the offensive line. If you don’t have that, you’re not going to be very good offensively. And the answer to offense, on the defensive side, is getting pressure. So we focused on those two areas. We went into it with a very calculated, deliberate approach.

We did a very good job of waiting — we monitor the market, we stay in contact with everybody... I think with the center (Matt Paradis), that was the most important acquisition we had. I think that arguably, it’s the most important position on the offensive line. (Former Panthers offensive coordinator) Dan Henning told me that years ago. I argued with him at the time that left tackle was, but everything revolves around center. And he’s the guy who sets the formations, makes sure everybody is on the same page, and when you lose a player like Ryan Kalil...

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We never thought we had a chance to get a guy like Matt Paradis ... But a few things played out with other teams that we thought would be very aggressive with him, and we were able to get him at a very fair deal for both sides — and I think he’s going to be a good addition. And with Daryl (Williams), we were patient and gave him a chance to explore the market. To get him back on a one-year deal, in a 48-hour period, I went from really being concerned about how we were going to re-tool our offensive line to feeling that we had at least made some steps in that process to move forward. Obviously we’re not done anywhere, but those were two really good acquisitions for us.

(More, on Paradis): It’s an important position, and I think when you have a guy like Ryan at that spot for so many years, you learn to appreciate more and more the communication aspect of it, it’s so important. To get a veteran to come in at that spot as opposed to maybe having to draft a guy and come in and compete with (backup center Tyler Larsen) ... Everyone you talk to says he’s smart and tough, and fits our “Panther DNA.“ We were very excited ... we were patient. And I think that’s the thing — one good decision at a time, as someone once told me.

We’re going to keep that approach, and keep looking. We are trying to address needs. The goal going into the draft is to feel good enough where you go in and you draft the best player, which we will do, but the more you can help add players to increase competition and help depth, the better off you are.

Q. Do you have any concern about either player’s health status?

A. I think the report from the doctors on both are very encouraging. With Matt, the agent was allowed to send the MRI report and the pictures before we signed him. The doctors looked at that and we’re satisfied with the notes and the surgery. When we brought him in for the physical, they were very satisfied with that as well. And with Daryl, we were able to have a little bit more information on him rehabbing at the (Panthers) facility ... Our doctors saw him when he came in to sign, and they’re pleased with his progress. With the information we have right now, we feel very optimistic about the two of them.

Q. With current uncertainty at left tackle, do you feel there’s a player in the draft who could start for you there?

A. There’s not one position I can tell you that will be a priority, because I really think we’re in a position where we can draft best player available. As far as left tackle goes, I know this: We have six guys that we feel very good about. Taylor (Moton) has played left tackle for a game — albeit one game — and Daryl has the physical skill set to play there. We have some time, we are going to work through the process and I think that will all answer itself as we go through the draft, OTAs and minicamp ... We’re maybe 40, 50 percent through this process so there are still a lot of questions.

Q. How much will signing defensive end/outside linebacker Bruce Irvin help as this team plays more multiple fronts?

A. Position flexibility is critical on both sides. As far as the offensive line, I think all of the good offensive line coaches I’ve been around (say) most players have two positions ... Defensive line is the same way, especially if you’re going to go to multiple fronts like we are.

Q. (Head coach) Ron Rivera indicated that maybe Matt (Kalil) would not be ready until the end of camp. Were there some medical concerns?

A. When Daryl came back, we decided to make that move and move forward. I think Matt is a good player. Missed most of last year, but we just made the decision ... With every acquisition, you have to make tough decisions ... When we signed Daryl, we made the decision to move on from Matt.

Q. When you came back (for your second stint as general manager), you said you wanted to think with your head and not your heart —

A. I think we’ve done that for the past two years ... When I say “analytical approach,” it’s being patient. It’s waiting for things to come to us instead of rushing out and doing things that way. It’s an approach that I feel good about, and I feel has worked for us I think over the last couple of years, and we’re going to continue to do that.

Q. Will the switch that Rivera is making defensively alter the way you approach the draft?

A. No, I think it opens up some talent pool. One of the benefits of this is with the way colleges are playing offensively and then the translation defensively, finding those 6-foot-5, 275-pound pass rushers is hard. So I think that it opens up the pool as far as guys who play those sorts of roles, who can drop in coverage and rush off the edge and can play the five-technique and move into a three-technique ... I think it opens up some more options for you as far as skill set of players coming out in the draft.

Q. What is a fair number for a cluster of prospects you might be evaluating at No. 16 at this point?

A. Last year, we were at No. 24 and we went in with five or six guys who we thought had a chance to (be around). That number probably won’t change much ... It helps, because when you get close you get an idea. If you have five guys, and three are gone, you look and try to adjust — maybe trade back — whatever you do. I would say normally it’s five or six guys that you normally have there, but shoot, you might get surprised and somebody that you (rated much higher) could still be there. The key is aligning your board right, putting guys in the right order, and going by your board.

Jourdan has covered the Carolina Panthers as a beat writer since 2016, and froze during Pennsylvania winters as an award-winning Penn State football beat writer before that. A 2014 graduate of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, she’s on a never-ending quest for trick plays and the stories that give football fans goosebumps.
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