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Newton has chance to win over undecided Panthers

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Dan Parr

dparr@pfwmedia.com
Associate editor

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Posted April 01, 2011 @ 10:09 a.m. ET
By Dan Parr

At some point in the not too distant future, the Panthers' decision makers are going to get together and try to have a conversation that results in a clear resolution to the question no one knows the answer to quite yet.

What are they going to do with the first overall pick?

Panthers GM Marty Hurney apparently isn't going to make the decision alone. He's a consensus builder — that point is hammered home in his official team bio.

"The way we do things, everybody has a voice, and there is great communication," Hurney says. "You can find 15 people who have had a voice in a decision. That's the important thing for me. … My role is to make sure everyone is coordinated and on the same page. It's a group effort."

This year the stakes in the Panthers' draft room will be high. Top pick in hand after finishing 2-14 last season, Hurney is operating without his usual co-pilot. The only head coach Hurney has ever worked with since becoming general manager in 2002, John Fox, was shown the door after the season and first-time head coach Ron Rivera replaced him. The Panthers aren't sure who their choice is going to be, and they're well aware of the costs attached to missing on such an early pick.

Whether it's fair or not to judge a long career on one pick, this potentially is a defining moment for both men, and a consensus might be hard to reach. It appears that there are about four players, although the Panthers have said they are considering more, that have a realistic chance of being selected with the first pick, but the only thing the Panthers know for sure is that they don't want to be in the position of leading off the draft ever again and probably wouldn't mind trading down from the top spot.

Hurney, Rivera and owner Jerry Richardson might have a better idea of whether Cam Newton will be their first choice after April 5. That's the day Newton is scheduled to come to Charlotte for a visit.

It's true that Hurney is wary of spending picks, and particularly early ones, on quarterbacks. Carolina has drafted only four of them since '02, and the club never has picked one in the first round on Hurney's watch.

Despite the concerns about Newton's character and ability to lead a professional team, we're told the Panthers' interest in him is serious. Hurney has defended last year's second-round pick, QB Jimmy Clausen, but is he convinced that Clausen is the answer? Newton could be, and the Panthers are doing a thorough inspection of his past — which includes stealing a laptop computer from a student's dorm room and reports of cheating academically.

The Panthers watched Newton on tape and at the NFL Scouting Combine. They had a contingent at his pro day at Auburn. I'm sure Hurney has called people who have been around Newton throughout his life to help get a better read on just who Newton really is.

Carolina will not have ignored the red flags that were waved over and over again if Newton becomes a Panther on Draft Day, just as they will not have denied how bright his future could be if they pass on him.

Newton has a chance to win over the Panthers' brass when he comes to Charlotte on April 5. The process of elimination when it comes to deciding who goes first could be completed in short order if Newton calms any remaining doubts the Panthers have about him.

Newton also could lose them completely. It's possible that he won't change anyone's opinion inside the organization, and they'll be struggling with this decision throughout most of April.

We just don't know which direction the Panthers are going yet, but Newton could help them gain some clarity within a week's time.

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