Panthers face important choice

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. --- It started with Jake Delhomme's playoff meltdown in January 2009 and picked up steam through questionable personnel and coaching decisions, decimating injuries, an ill-timed labor dispute and plain bad luck.

Now after the swift fall from division winner to the NFL's worst team, the Carolina Panthers have a chance to end a brutal two-year stretch.

All general manager Marty Hurney has to do is be perfect with perhaps the most important selection in franchise history: the No. 1 overall pick in Thursday's NFL Draft.

"You just want to make the right selection," Hurney said.

Not long after the Panthers locked up the No. 1 pick with a 2-14 season, Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck stunned the Panthers by staying in school.

So now what?

There's another potentially dominant quarterback out there who owns a national championship and a Heisman Trophy. Only Auburn's Cam Newton carries enough off-field baggage to make him one of the riskiest picks of recent times.

"Newton is off the charts completely," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. "The game of football requires a lot of film study. You have to be able to love that part of it. If you don't, you're not going to be a great quarterback. That's what they're trying to figure out right now about Cam Newton."

New coach Ron Rivera has stressed the need for a stable QB, something the Panthers haven't had since Delhomme never recovered from his six-turnover nightmare against Arizona in Carolina's last playoff game at the end of the 2008 season.

No deadline set to cancel games

The NFL doesn't have a deadline for when games would be canceled without a collective bargaining agreement.

"We don't have a date by which the season is lost, or a date by which we have to move from 16 games to some other (number)," Eric Grubman, the league's executive vice presiwdent for business operations, said Friday at a meeting with Associated Press Sports Editors. "Our intentions are to play a full season, and we will pull every lever that we can within the flexibility we have or can identify to make that happen."

-- Associated Press

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