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Panthers GM Hurney: Trading down an option, not up

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - The Panthers aren't like a lot of NFL teams - they're interested in moving down in next week's draft, not up.

General manager Marty Hurney said Thursday in a pre-draft press conference that Carolina - which has the ninth overall pick - doesn't have the ammunition to trade up after dealing this year's third-round pick to Chicago for tight end Greg Olsen last July.

"Probably not," Hurney said. "It would cost more than we would be willing to do at this point, especially given our situation."

However, Hurney said trading down is an option he'll consider.

"We do think it's a deep draft," Hurney said. "If the right situation comes up and you can move back and collect more picks you do it. You see who's there. With all of the scenarios we go over (in pre-draft meetings), that's what we decide. We will know going into the draft who we would stick around for and who we would trade back to get.

"You want to make sure that if you're sitting at No. 9 there is a player you're comfortable with if you decide to use the pick."

A year ago the Panthers had the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft and selected wisely, taking quarterback Cam Newton from Auburn. Newton started all 16 games and combined for 35 touchdowns - 21 passing and 14 rushing - to earn AP Rookie of the Year.

Things are a little different this year.

They have to wait and see what others will do before making their pick.

"It will be kind of fun to see Marty squirm a little bit as the names come off the board," coach Ron Rivera joked. "It's not like last year where we had the pick of the litter.

"Now we've got to react to what's happening - who goes here, who goes there and then we'll decide who fits us best and who's going to help us immediately."

Although there typically hasn't been a lot of movement in the top 10 in past seasons, Hurney thinks that could change this year because of the reduced rookie salary cap pool under the new collective bargaining agreement. This year it's dramatically less expensive to sign a top 10 pick, so Hurney thinks more teams will be willing to trade up.

The Panthers clearly need to upgrade the defensive side of the ball.

They've added a few unproven free agents to a defense that surrendered nearly 27 points per game last year.

"I think you do have needs on the defensive side of the ball, but we're hoping that some of players coming back from injuries will fill those needs," Hurney said. "That said, I think our mindset in this draft, and in every draft, is to take the best player.

"We have some needs on offense too and it's a matter of keeping your strengths strong. But obviously we hope we can get some players to help our defense in this draft."

The Panthers are expected to get linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis back from season-ending injuries, but Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly could be an intriguing option if he falls to the ninth spot. He won the Bronko Nagurski Award last year given to the nation's top defender and has registered at least 10 tackles in 33 straight games.

There are glaring needs to fill on the defensive line and secondary, too.

The Panthers drafted defensive tackles Sione Fua and Terrell McClain in the third round last year, but it's not out of the question they could look to add a player like Mississippi State's Fletcher Cox or Memphis' Dontario Poe, who flew up draft boards with a strong showing at the scouting combines.

If they go defensive end, some of the potential candidates to complement starters Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy include North Carolina's Quinton Coples and South Carolina's Melvin Ingram. South Carolina's Stephen Gilmore or Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick could be options at cornerback.

Rivera said no matter who the Panthers choose in the first round, they expect he'll be an immediate starter.

"We're not taking a guy early to have him develop," Rivera said. "We're taking a guy early to put him on the field and have him help us right away. That's what the expectation is."

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