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Report: Matt Rhule, Panthers GM had rift over first-round pick

Matt Johnson
Jul 25, 2019; Spartanburg, SC, USA; A Carolina Panthers helmet lays on the field during training camp held at Wofford College. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Panthers made Matt Rhule one of the NFL’s highest-paid coaches this offseason, signing him to a seven-year, $63 million contract right out of college. While the organization showed a strong belief in Rhule rebuilding this team, that same confidence in his decision-making didn’t seem to exist during the 2020 NFL Draft.

A divide between Rhule and general manager Marty Hurney became apparent immediately on draft day. When the Panthers were on the clock with the No. 7 overall pick, there was immediate disagreement between Rhule and Hurney with the pick.

According to The Athletic’s Joe Person, Rhule insisted on Carolina trading down into the teens to pick up additional draft picks. Such a move would allow him to still grab a top talent and acquire additional selections to grab more players in a deep draft class.

Hurney reportedly wouldn’t go for it, making it clear that the Panthers weren’t moving down the draft board. Instead, Carolina selected defensive tackle Derrick Brown over standout linebacker Isaiah Simmons, who fell to the Arizona Cardinals at the No. 8 overall spot.

It is typical for an experienced general manager to make the call in that situation. Hurney’s voice also carries even more weight in Carolina given he joined the organization’s front office in 1998 and served as the general manager from 2002-’12, before returning in 2017.

However, the Panthers made a huge commitment to Rhule for a reason. He demonstrated at Temple and Baylor that he knows how to rebuild a program and his plans work. If he is going to be the highest-paid person on the staff and has the most job security, the decision arguably should have been his call.

Carolina will likely need to find someone to take over for Hurney in a few years anyway and Rhule seems ideal to take on the additional responsibilities. While this might not cause immediate issues in Carolina, it could easily become a problem if the organization keeps deferring to Hurney.