CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Jake Delhomme led the Carolina Panthers to the Super Bowl after the 2003 season, before Cam Newton was the team’s all-time leading passer. Ken Lucas had 13 interceptions in four seasons, which ranks him among the team’s best cornerbacks ever.
But those free-agent hits were few and far between for Marty Hurney during his first run as Carolina’s general manager. He had anywhere from seven to 12 free-agent successes from 2002 to 2012, depending how strictly you want to grade it.
More often than not, there were signings such as those of tight end Freddie Jones and running back LaBrandon Toefield.
Don’t remember them?
Dave Gettleman had more hits (12-14) in his five free-agency periods than Hurney did in the previous 11. But Gettleman was fired prior to last year’s training camp, and now comes Hurney’s second stint, which officially begins today. Will it be different from his first?
Hurney doesn’t start with a lot of salary-cap space: only $19,720,035, according to ESPN’s Roster Management. He’ll have to take an approach similar to what Gettleman did during his first two seasons, when he went for second-tier players.
That’s why Hurney traded cornerback Daryl Worley for Philadelphia wide receiver Torrey Smith instead of going after free agents Sammy Watkins and Allen Robinson, who each got $14 million in three-year deals. Smith will count $5 million per year against the cap.
That’s why Hurney couldn’t compete to keep left guard Andrew Norwell and defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. Norwell got a five-year deal with Jacksonville that averages $13.3 million per year. Lotulelei got a five-year deal with Buffalo.
Hurney’s first year back in free agency should be judged like Gettleman’s first. Gettleman signed six free agents in 2013. Four -- safety Mike Mitchell, wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr., cornerback Drayton Florence and linebacker Chase Blackburn -- were successes. Stay tuned on Breeland and others.
Hurney signed 10 free agents who never played a down during his first stint with Carolina. He was most successful with first-round draft picks and trades, most notably the deal to get tight end Greg Olsen from Chicago for a third-round pick in 2011. From 2014 through '16, Olsen became the first tight end in NFL history to have three straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons.
If the Smith trade, which added speed and experience to the receiving corps, turns out to be half that good, Hurney is off to a good start. But ultimately, he’ll be judged on what he does from today forward.
Hurney said he learned a lot being away from football for five years. One of the things he mentioned was patience. So far, he has shown that, which was one of Gettleman’s strengths.
Here’s a look back at Hurney’s free-agent classes (he didn’t sign anybody in 2009 and 2010):
2002: Hits: none. Misses: CB Terry Cousin, QB Rodney Peete, RB Lamar Smith. Comment: Peete had an 8-7 record as the starter but basically was a backup at this point in his career. Cousin and Smith weren’t bad but weren't close to home runs.
2003: Hits: QB Jake Delhomme, WR Ricky Proehl. Misses: G Doug Brzezinski, WR Kevin Dyson, LB Greg Favors. Comment: Delhomme might have been the team’s best free-agent signing ever because he stabilized the quarterback position for the first time in franchise history and helped get Carolina to the Super Bowl in his first season.
2004: Hit: LB Brandon Short. Misses: G Travis Claridge,
CB Terrance Shaw. Comment: Shaw and Claridge never played for Carolina, but Short started 17 games in two seasons.
2005: Hits: CB Ken Lucas, CB Marlon McCree. Misses: S Idrees Bashir, TE Freddie Jones, P Tom Rouen. Comment: McCree had three picks and 15 starts in his only season. Lucas had 13 picks in four seasons.
2006: Hits: C Justin Hartwig, DT Maake Kemoetu, DT Damione Lewis. Misses: LB Keith Adams, S Kevin McCadam, S Shaun Williams. Comment: In Lewis and Kemoetu, the Panthers got multiyear starters, for a combined 76 starts.
2007: Hit: S Deke Cooper. Misses: None. Comment: Cooper played only one season, but he had 15 starts and three interceptions.
2008: Hits: G Kedrick Vincent, DE Tyler Braxton. Misses: G Milford Brown, DB Ricardo Colclough, WR D.J. Hackett, LB Landon Johnson, DT Ian Scott, LaBrandon Toefield. Comment: Braxton started 45 games in three seasons and had 9.5 sacks. Four players from this class didn’t play a down for the Panthers.
2011: Hit: WR Legedu Naane. Misses: S Sean Considine, DT Ron Edwards, LB Omar Gaither, PK Olindo Mare. Comment: Naane is shaky in the hit column, but he had 44 catches in his one season. No one in this class played more than one season in Carolina.
2012: Hits: None. Misses: S Haruki Nakamura, G Mike Pollak, S Reggie Smith. Comment: Nakamura started 13 games and had two picks but not enough to make him a hit.