When he was brought back as the Carolina Panthers’ interim general manager last summer, Marty Hurney said he was going to do things differently in his second stint with the team.
Hurney talked about “making sure the analytical part of my brain takes over the emotional” part when making personnel decisions.
He’s putting his money – and creating cap space – where his mouth is.
Over the space of about 48 hours this week, Hurney cut three starters, including the franchise’s all-time rushing leader and two players he drafted and paid handsomely during his first run as GM.
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On Monday, analytical Marty released safety Kurt Coleman and defensive end Charles Johnson, the edge rusher who was dubbed “Big Money” after Hurney signed him to a six-year, $76 million contract in 2011.
Two days later, running back Jonathan Stewart became the latest player to learn that Hurney’s not going to let loyalty stand in the way of roster-building.
The release of Stewart, who turns 31 in March and is on the downside of a terrific career, generated $3.7 million in cap space. All told, Hurney’s moves this week created nearly $10 million against the cap and added weight to Hurney’s comments from July.
“When you work with people so closely, you’re going to create bonds with those people. You’re going to create loyalties,” Hurney said then. “And when I look back and I look back at some of the mistakes, it might have been that loyalty, the emotional part of my brain takes over, then a lot of times that’s not good. So I think the analytical part has to be there.”
A human touch
Being more analytical doesn’t mean you stop being human.
Hurney left the combine to return to Charlotte to deliver the news to Stewart in person, much like Hurney flew to Chicago to tell Jake Delhomme’s agent the Panthers were cutting the veteran quarterback.
Stewart reportedly offered to take a pay cut to play out the final year of his contract in Carolina, but Hurney stood firm.
This week’s moves leave Carolina about $30 million below the projected $179 million cap, in stark contrast to where the Panthers sat cap-wise when Hurney left in 2012 after doling out fat contracts to several members of the team’s core – Johnson and Stewart included.
Johnson gave the Panthers their money’s worth, averaging more than 10 sacks the first four seasons after getting his big contract. Stewart stayed injured the first two years after his contract, but flirted with 1,000 yards in 2014 and 2015 and played a huge role in the Super Bowl season.
Hurney is headed back to Indianapolis to continue meeting with prospects and preparing for an increasingly important draft. While all of these cuts allowed the Panthers to get younger and more flexible from a spending perspective, they also tore additional holes into the two-deep chart.
Some critics and fans will never forgive Hurney for some of his draft mistakes, ripping him for his misses (Armanti Edwards, Jimmy Clausen, Everette Brown) and glossing over his hits (Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Julius Peppers, Josh Norman, Stewart, Johnson, and others).
Hurney was working in sports radio when then-GM Dave Gettleman and head coach Ron Rivera oversaw the Panthers’ magical 2015 season.
Less than two years later, Gettleman was out and Hurney was back in, with an interim tag that never felt like an interim tag.
It’s funny how things turn out.
While Hurney was meeting with Stewart in Charlotte on Wednesday, Gettleman was talking with reporters in Indianapolis about the value of a little time off.
Gettleman spent the months after his firing taking trips with his wife, visiting his children and doing more walking. He lost 30 pounds, looks refreshed and rejuvenated, and is working for a Giants team that’s a better organizational fit for him.
Hurney also seems to have benefited from his time away from the game. At 61, Hurney is remarried with a young child and a calmer, gentler approach.
As he said in July, you’re going to develop friendships, bonds and loyalties in any business.
The trick is not being loyal to a fault.
This week marks a good start.