CHARLOTTE – Marty Hurney gets it.
"What's happened to me doesn't happen in this league," he said Friday, two days after being named the Panthers' full-time general manager – again.
"I'm still pinching myself. I'm so grateful. To come back and work with guys like (head coach) Ron Rivera and all the guys here on the personnel side, I'm extremely fortunate."
Earlier this month, it appeared Hurney's extended second chance might not happen. He was placed on paid administrative leave Feb. 4 when the NFL began an investigation into whether Hurney violated the league's Personal Conduct Policy. That investigation found no evidence of a violation, and 12 days later, Hurney returned to Bank of America Stadium.
"It's been hard. It's been very hard on a lot of levels," Hurney said of the past few weeks. "As hard as it's been, I can't tell you how great it is to be back working.
"I think I got the call Friday (the 16th) at 2:30 from (COO) Tina (Becker) that I was able to come back, and I was here by 3 and in draft meetings by 3:10."
It certainly wasn't an ideal time of year to be without a GM, but in Hurney's absence, scouts and coaches continued to work through a plan months in the making. It's a blueprint Hurney began brainstorming shortly after he returned to the front office this past summer.
He worried back then if the Panthers had enough speed to be a true contender. In October, he did something about it, trading wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin to open up the offense. But there's only so much a roster-maker can do during a season.
Now's the time to truly tinker.
"Obviously, we want to increase our team speed overall. We want to add speed and athleticism to the skill positions," Hurney said.
But speed won't kill if you can't depend on your fronts.
"We want to stay strong on the offensive and defensive lines," Hurney continued, "because I think that has been a real personality trait of this team for a long time, and it's critical to win games."
Of course, the Panthers' two most important potential unrestricted free agents are in-the-trenches guys.
Hurney declined to specifically address the contract situations of guard Andrew Norwell and defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, but it's no secret both could be headed for big pay days. And with guard Trai Turner and defensive tackle Kawann Short landing hefty contracts last summer, the prudent decision may be to allow Norwell and Lotulelei to find better deals elsewhere.
"We want to keep as many of our players as we can," Hurney said. "But there are some instances that with the makeup of our roster, not only do you have to have varying skill sets as far as players go, but your economic makeup has to be diverse as well. You can't invest an overly high percentage of your salary cap into one position and weaken others."
Still, one of Hurney's stated goals is to stay strong up front. So how do the Panthers do that if two of their strongest linemen leave?
"One of the ways you do it was done before I came back in August – they used a first-round draft pick on a defensive tackle (Vernon Butler) two years ago and a second-round draft pick on an offensive lineman (Taylor Moton) a year ago," Hurney said. "Those guys have to develop and continue to improve, which I think they have. That all comes into play as far as your blueprint goes."
As Hurney often reminded during this 20-minute chat, that blueprint is fluid, and parts of it can change daily.
People can change, too, and during his five years away, Hurney had plenty of time to consider what he'd do differently if given the second chance he now has.
"This is the time of the year you have to make very hard decisions. You have to be patient," he said. "You can't have a knee-jerk reaction as far as falling in love with a guy and overspending and hurting your team salary cap-wise.
"We have a plan in place, and sometimes that plan goes down to five, six options at one spot because you have to have that approach to be fluid."