General manager Martin Mayhew and executive vice president of football/player personnel Marty Hurney have not worked together before, but the executives are already noticing they have several similarities.
For starters, they both have experience working as a general manager; Mayhew was in the role with the Detroit Lions, while Hurney had two stints as the Carolina Panthers’ GM. They believe in having a collaborative effort with the people they work with, which is something that is already underway in their first week with the team.
But one more common thread was prevalent as the two spoke with Senior Vice President of Media and Content Julie Donaldson: they like to build rosters around the offensive and defensive fronts. And as it turns out, both of them are impressed with the talent the Washington Football Team has already acquired at both position groups over the past five seasons.
"I think that you have to be able to protect the quarterback and rush the quarterback in this league," Hurney said. "I think if you're good there, which this team is strong [at] in both those areas...everything builds through those starting blocks."
That sentiment is one that Hurney has lived by over the course of 15 combined seasons as a general manager for the Panthers. He turned a team that was 1-15 into a Super Bowl contender over the course of two seasons, and he started that by drafting Julius Peppers with the No. 2 overall pick in 2002. He followed that up by drafting offensive tackle Jordan Gross and guard Bruce Nelson with back-to-back picks the following year.
The results of those draft picks were almost instantaneous. Carolina's rushing offense went from 25th in 2002 to seventh in 2003, and the offense's overall performance went from 31st to 16th. On defense, the Panthers improved from 28th to second in sacks in 2002 -- thanks in part to Peppers' Defensive Rookie of the Year season -- and remained a top 10 team in 2003.
It is that kind of resume that enticed head coach Ron Rivera to reunite with Hurney from their days together in Carolina.
"Marty Hurney is an excellent evaluator of talent and someone whom I trust and have worked with in the past," Rivera said in a press release announcing the hire. "He knows the amount of hard work it takes to operate a successful personnel department. Marty has a proven track record as a successful scout and general manager and will be a vital part of shaping our roster."
Like Hurney, Mayhew believes the most important part of building a roster is having a strong front, and that played a pivotal role in rebuilding the Lions franchise, which had finished the 2008 season 0-16 when he took over. Four of the Lions first-round picks from 2009-13 were on the defensive line -- three of them were defensive linemen Nick Fairley, Ezekiel Ansah and perennial Pro Bowler Ndamukong Suh. That played a part in Detroit finishing 10-6 in 2011 and 11-5 in 2014 with both seasons resulting in playoff berths.
Fortunately, Washington has already addressed both offensive and defensive fronts over the past five seasons. In fact, both Mayhew and Hurney are impressed with the players who have been brought in with Mayhew mentioning the likes of Chase Young and Montez Sweat. Mayhew followed the team during the 2020 season as it won the NFC East, and based on what he has seen, he believes Washington is in a better position than when he worked in Detroit and with the San Francisco 49ers, who made last year's Super Bowl because of his help in structuring the roster.
"You can see that watching this team in that final playoff game how [Taylor] Heinicke was playing, the way the team rallied around him. It was really something special to watch," Mayhew said. "So I was really excited watching that final playoff game, even though they didn't get the victory, I saw a lot of promise in that football team."
Washington's investment in its fronts has worked out for the team. Young, who is a favorite to be the 2020 Defensive Rookie of the Year, led all rookies in sacks and was voted to his first Pro Bowl. Right guard Brandon Scherff made the Pro Bowl for the fourth time and also made first team All-Pro for the first time in his career. It is a good foundation, but Mayhew is already focused on improving upon it.
"We've got to keep feeding that front," he said. "We've got to keep adding quality players there. We've got a really good front four right now. We've got to build on that, we've got to keep our offensive line solid."
Mayhew and Hurney will report directly to Rivera, which aligns with Washington's coach-centric approach to structuring the franchise, and that is also something the two believe is the right approach. Mayhew sees that working out well because he knows Rivera's reputation and has been part of a similar structure in San Francisco. He worked closely with 49ers general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan, with the latter making the primary roster decisions, and that approach got the team to a Super Bowl.
"They're very close, they spend a lot of time together," Mayhew said of Lynch and Shanahan. "As Marty and I have been doing this past week and plan to spend more time with Ron as well, I think it's important that we all mesh together to make it work. I know that Ron is very capable of being that final decision-maker."
Hurney, who worked Rivera for nearly half of his time as the Panthers' general manager, can vouch for the head coach's ability. Rivera knows what he wants, Hurney said, and that helps everyone on the staff.
"He's had a consistent philosophy since he's become a head coach, in my opinion," Hurney said. "It was not a surprise to me to see him come in and do what he did last year. Ron is very direct, very easy to understand what he wants, and he makes that clear not only to players but to everybody in the organization that works for him."
Mayhew and Hurney are already at work evaluating players at the Senior Bowl, which is the first time the two have scouted talent together. It is a new experience for both of them, but they at least know they are on the same page.
"I think we're both 'people persons' that want to bring...the people that we work with together and have a collaborative effort, and I think we've seen that in this first week," Hurney said, "It's just been such a natural fit."