There are many reasons to be critical of Carolina Panthers general manager Marty Hurney, anywhere from his past mistakes of paying too much to retain internal talent to his ignorance of the free safety position as of this writing. Marty is by no means a perfect general manager, and it is possible that after this season or next he won’t be one at all. In truth, Hurney has his wagon hitched to head coach Ron Rivera along with the core talent this team has built. So while Hurney by no means made this team perfect, he swung for the fences for one of those players; Cam Newton.
Ron Rivera told us back in February that this team needed to protect their quarterback, and they certainly stuck to their plan with how they addressed the offseason. This team had a lot of needs in order to be successful, so it was very important that they address the right needs with the limited salary and draft capital they had. And they threw a lot of it at the offensive line.
While many other teams were out making waves and throwing money at things, the Panthers quietly snatched the consensus best center in free agency off the market. It wasn’t the flashiest signing, but experts and analytics applauded the signing. Paradis had some minor injury concerns, but when healthy he could be an excellent replacement for Ryan Kalil, who once was a stalwart for the offensive line. This signing was huge because it not only marked center off the offseason checklist, but they had found a proven commodity rather than a rookie to helm the interior.
There was plenty of fear that Marty 2.0 would return to his Marty 1.0 ways and throw a huge contract at Williams to retain him, despite already having a solid right tackle and Williams coming off a major knee injury. Instead, the Panthers let him test the market. Instead of getting a Matt Kalil-esque deal in free agency, Williams’ market dried up. Instead, he returned on a one-year, $6 million dollar prove-it contract. While there are question marks about Williams’ “All Pro” season of the past, this turned out to be a very fair deal, giving the Panthers some flexibility in the event they walked away from the draft without a true left tackle.
There were rumors that the Panthers were looking at Greg Little with their first round pick, however when edge rusher Brian Burns fell to them, they pulled the trigger and rolled the dice on the second round. On Day 2, they ended up trading the No. 77 overall pick to go up and nab Greg Little at the top of the second round. While many see the trade as using too much capital to acquire a player, when you examine it through a different lens you can see the value. The Panthers could have taken Little in the first round and retained that pick, but instead they acquired both Burns and Little, both of which they likely had a first round grade on. In addition, they used a 6th round pick on Dennis Daley, someone who could play multiple positions on a line with some development.
We can’t really see how good or bad the pick was until Little plays, but the logic is there. Little could be a day one starter at offensive tackle, as his draft profile and scouting indicates a high level of pass protection ability. This also gives the Panthers even more options at offensive tackle than they’ve had in the past. In years prior, the Panthers plan at left tackle was “this guy or bust”, as Matt Kalil and Michael Oher never really had any true back up in the event of injury. Now, the Panthers have Greg Little and we know that Taylor Moton can at least be passable if needed as a left tackle. In addition, at right tackle they have both Williams and Moton who can both be high level starters, with whoever ends up starting being backed up by the other. Williams could also factor into the left guard position, as Greg Van Roten was consistent but also someone that could be improved upon.
The Panthers walked away having addressed the biggest needs on the offensive line, and allowed themselves some leeway in the event an injury happens. Heck, the Panthers locked down a back up for Paradis in Tyler Larsen last offseason. Every position has someone who can step in that isn’t some guy we’ve never seen play NFL football.
So while many are rightly critical of Marty Hurney, he certainly stuck to his guns this offseason. And the last time Cam Newton was surrounded by a competent offensive line, they went to the Super Bowl. So if you have to hitch your bet to anyone, I think hitching it to Newton was the right call.