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Why the Panthers Next GM Is Being Set Up to Fail

Marty Hurney was fired for destroying the salary cap. Dave Gettleman was fired for prioritizing it. What’s the next GM to do?

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NFL: Super Bowl 50-Carolina Panthers vs Denver Broncos Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Marty Hurney was fired as the Carolina Panthers GM in 2012 in large part because he gave out above-market contracts to players who were loyal but either aging or playing in less valuable positions, thus crippling the team’s salary cap flexibility.

Dave Gettleman was fired as the Carolina Panthers GM in 2017 in large part because he did not give above-market contracts to players who were loyal but either aging or playing in less valuable positions, thus preserving the team’s salary cap flexibility.

Follow Hurney’s relationship-based approach and you’ll screw up the salary cap and be fired.

Follow Gettleman’s analytical approach and you’ll have some unhappy players and be fired.

The next Panthers GM is being set up to fail.

Why Marty Hurney Got Fired

During his tenure as GM from 2002-2012, Mary Hurney rewarded loyalty.

We don’t need to re-hash each of the above-marked contracts Hurney awarded to home-grown Panthers here. Bill Barnwell put together a good overview in a 2012 Grantland article titled “Carolina’s Chaos” outlining the consequences of these massive deals.

An article written during the 2011 offseason begins with the sentence, “The Carolina Panthers’ wild spending spree keeps on going.”

Players, understandably, responded well to Hurney’s style.

When Hurney was fired after the Panthers 1-5 start in 2012, an ESPN article quoted Charles Johnson as writing, “Marty might be the realest GM that I know #InMyMind BS BS BS BS!” The same article quoted Steve Smith as saying, “I always will, I always have respected Marty as a man and also as a GM.”

Carolina’s culture was so player-friendly under Hurney that Jake Delhomme gave an emotional, grateful, tear-filled press conference after Marty Hurney cut him in a way Delhomme described as being “blindsided.”

No bitterness. No anger. No personal attacks. Just gratitude.

Hurney’s player-first approach was great for morale, but it had devastating impacts on the team’s salary cap. When Gettleman took over for Hurney in 2012, the Panthers were $16 million over the cap.

Let me say that again, this time with exclamation points: The Panthers were $16 million over the cap!!!!!

Marty Hurney kept players happy by rewarding productivity and loyalty with above-market contract extensions.

And Jerry Richardson ultimately fired Marty Hurney for it.

Why Dave Gettleman Got Fired

Since Gettleman took over in 2012, a parade of long-time and well-liked players have left Charlotte under less than ideal circumstances, at least from the players’ perspectives.

Jon Beason. Jordan Gross. Steve Smith. DeAngelo Williams. Josh Norman.

All gone.

And based on their tweets and comments since their departures, most of them seem pretty bitter about how their time with the Panthers ended.

But here is what else has happened since Gettleman took over: The Panthers went 40-23-1. They won three straight NFC South titles. They reached the Super Bowl.

And in 2015, Dave Gettleman was awarded the NFL’s Executive of the Year.

But Gettleman’s style was more calculating than Hurney’s, prioritizing salary cap flexibility over personal relationships. This approach has left veterans like Greg Olsen and Thomas Davis unhappy with their current contracts, a distraction which seems to have factored into Gettlemans’ firing.

While Gettleman’s style was tough, it’s not like he was an inhumane combination of Dr. Evil and Catbert, finding joy in demeaning others.

After Gettleman’s firing, Michael Oher wrote, “(Gettleman) really cares about you as a person just not the player, also is always interested in how your family is as well. Hated to hear that news.” Greg Olsen was quoted by the Charlotte Observer after Gettleman’s exit as saying, “I always enjoyed Dave. I always thought he did a good job.” The Observer noted that Olsen’s 2015 contract extension with Gettleman was “never contentious.”

Dave Gettleman made tough but mostly necessary moves to position the Panthers salary cap for both current flexibility and long-term sustainability.

And Jerry Richardson fired him for it.

Mr. Richardson’s Terrible Precedent

For as much as I respect, even revere, Jerry Richardson for bringing my beloved Panthers to the Carolinas and for keeping the team here, his apparent rationale for firing Dave Gettleman sets a terrible precedent.

The message to the next GM is clear: Keep the veterans happy, or you’re gone.

The next logical question to ask is if there is a third option, finding a GM with Hurney’s interpersonal skills blended with Gettleman’s business acumen.

Don’t count on it.

Remember, the GM isn’t negotiating with players. He’s negotiating with their agents.

For example, Greg Olsen’s agent is DREW FREAKING ROSENHAUS!

Here is how Rosenhaus described himself in a 1996 interview: “I am a relentless, ruthless warrior. I am a hit man. I will move in for the kill and use everything within my power to succeed for my clients.” He wrote a book in 1998 titled A Shark Never Sleeps.

Ruthless. Warriors. Hit men. Sharks. These are the people GMs deal with.

Even “good guys” like Greg Olsen seek out the fiercest, most shrewd, most effective agents. Players and their agents want to get as much money as possible. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the process can get ugly when Drew Rosenhaus and “sharks” like him start negotiating.

Good GMs need to be just as ruthless as players and their agents can be. Otherwise, teams will get shredded in negotiations and end up $16 million over the salary cap.

Don’t blame Dave Gettleman for being impersonal and calculating in his style. That, by necessity, was a job requirement in making tough decisions to fix the salary cap mess inherited.

Assuming the “interim” label does in fact get removed from Marty Hurney and a new General Manager is hired within the next year, Jerry Richardson is setting them up to fail.

The new GM will clearly understand from Mr. Richardson that relationships trump market value and harmony is more important than the harsh realities of the NFL’s salary cap.

The new GM had better act accordingly.

That is, until this player-friendly approach once again puts the Panthers salary cap in the toilet. Then he will be fired, like Marty Hurney was.

Then a new GM will be hired to fix the mess, and he’ll be fired for making unpopular decisions, like Dave Gettleman was.

And the cycle will continue.


Which Style Do You Want In the New GM?

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    Hurney’s - Consistency and continuity are more important than salary cap flexibility. Reward loyalty and tenure with extensions even if it creates cap difficulty.
    (56 votes)
  • 94%
    Gettleman’s - Salary cap flexibility is more important than consistency and continuity. Reward loyalty and tenure with extensions only when it makes market sense and preserves cap space.
    (916 votes)
972 votes total Vote Now