It has been enlightening to watch Carolina Panthers general manager Marty Hurney navigate the NFL’s messy free agency process in his second try at this job – one in which Hurney is obviously determined to learn from the mistakes he made the first time around.
The old Hurney got really emotional. He was overly loyal and handed out enormous contracts like Oprah once handed out new cars – “You get a contract! And you get a contract!” – to too many of the players he drafted.
Loyalty sounds like a great characteristic but in a cold-hearted profession where rosters must churn constantly (see Patriots, New England), it turned out to haunt Hurney.
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But this is Hurney 2.0, and he is trying to change.
For instance: I truly believe that the old Hurney would have made an emotional decision to keep cornerback Bashaud Breeland even after Breeland failed his incoming physical last week following the Panthers agreeing to terms with the former Washington cornerback on a three-year, $24-million contract.
Carolina really wanted Breeland to take over its No. 2 cornerback spot – it was vacant after Hurney traded away Daryl Worley to get Cam Newton a vertical threat in Torrey Smith. The Panthers thought they got Breeland at a good price. They were excited about him. Hurney would have considered Breeland “one of the guys” the moment Breeland said yes.
And then Breeland, the former Clemson standout, failed his physical because of a non-football injury. Breeland told ESPN.com that he had hurt his foot earlier this month when a golf cart hit him in the back of the leg. The injury, he said, will require skin grafts to fix.
The Panthers say they can’t comment on the exact nature of the injury because of HIPAA privacy regulations. Hurney talked to me about a number of things in our conversation this week but repeatedly declined comment on this issue.
But here’s the way I read it: Breeland is not going to be out forever with this injury. The Panthers could have said, OK, we’ll ride this out and wait for him to heal. Hopefully he will be 100 percent before too long and can play in 2018. They could have renegotiated the contract to protect themselves a little more and hoped the doctors did their magic just right.
Instead, the Panthers exercised their right and punted on Breeland, which means they are still in search of a No. 2 cornerback.
So Hurney extricated himself from what had the potential to be another deal gone wrong, and he instead will address the position again in either free agency, the draft or both. The logic seems to be that it’s easier to start anew than try to undo something down the road, in a “one smart decision at a time” type of way.
Of course, the Panthers are going to misfire some in this offseason. Everyone does. Or they will do something that sounds good and then goes bad because of injury. That happens all the time and could ransack the 2018 Panthers season.
But their overall plan seems sound to me. The team is obviously attempting to get younger, faster and more athletic at the skill positions (releasing Kurt Coleman and Jonathan Stewart made sense) while maintaining what was last year’s biggest strength (the defensive and offensive lines) and giving Cam Newton a new offensive coordinator and some more speed to play with to showcase one of his best attributes – throwing the deep ball.
As for Breeland – that’s a tough call, and one Hurney would likely have done differently the first time around.