Months of preparation, weeks on the road, countless days watching film and hours discussing strategy.
The NFL Draft is unsurprisingly an extensive time commitment for a team’s front office, whose futures may hinge on their success or failure on draft day. It’s a process Carolina Panthers general manager Marty Hurney has grown accustomed to in his 12 combined seasons in the role. After last month’s NFL scouting combine, Hurney and his staff have met constantly to prepare for the three-day enigma that is the draft, going over every possible twist and turn it could offer.
No matter how the board plays out come April 25, Hurney said the Panthers have a plan for it.
“I’ve been thinking about it for a month and a half. We go over every scenario possible with our scouts, our coaching staff,” he said during the team’s predraft press conference Wednesday. “I don’t think there’s a scenario that we won’t be ready for.”
The Panthers’ draft board runs five or six names deep at each of the seven of the picks they own in this year’s draft. But what’s the proper course of action if that board is still nearly full as their pick approaches, or if their pool of preferred players starts to rapidly diminish?
In other words, when is it appropriate to trade up or trade back?
Hurney has orchestrated 14 draft-day pick swaps during his split tenures with the Panthers. By their powers combined, these trades taught him a valuable lesson about swapping picks — you win when you maximize value.
“I think it all depends on your board and who’s there,” he said. “You’d much rather trade back than up to get extra picks — when you’re trading up, you’re giving away picks. There are times that if you think a certain value is there, you make that decision.
“The whole key to it is maximizing value, getting as many good players that can come in here and compete for either starting jobs or can increase your depth.”
During his first GM stint with Carolina from 2002 to 2012, Hurney traded back in the draft nearly as often as he traded up, with the former producing objectively better results.
In 2002, Hurney traded a third-round pick to move back in the round and added a fifth-round pick, the former becoming nine-year NFL starter Will Witherspoon. Hurney traded away the second-round pick that became All-Pro linebacker Lofa Tatupu in 2005 for a second-round selection and two fourth-round picks, none of which became productive NFL players. Hurney made up for it with the best draft-day trade of his career two years later.
He turned one future All-Pro into two future All-Pros in 2007, trading the pick that became Darrelle Revis for three picks — two of which he used on Jon Beason and Ryan Kalil.
Moving the other way in the draft, Hurney traded up for future starters Ricky Manning (third round, 2003) and Chris Gamble (first round, 2004), but also traded first-round picks in consecutive years to draft busts Jeff Otah and Everette Brown in 2008 and 2009, respectively.
On Wednesday, Hurney explained his thought process as he considers each trade.
“If you get to your pick and you had five guys on your list, and four are there, then maybe you talk about trading back,” he said. “If it’s five picks ahead of you and nobody’s there, you could talk about trading up but you could also talk about trading back and getting additional picks, and get players that are still very good players that just didn’t happen to be in (your) top five.”
Carolina will likely address its offensive or defensive lines with its first-round pick this year but isn’t likely to trade up from No. 16 overall, as multiple options on either side of the ball should be available based on several analysts’ projections.
And whatever trades the Panthers could make next week, Hurney won’t do it if it doesn’t involve maximizing his team’s draft capital.