NFC South: Marlon McCree

For what I believe is the first time since his heart transplant surgery more than a year ago, Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson has spoken publicly.

Richardson spoke with the team’s official magazine and addressed a number of issues. Good move by Richardson and the team to finally do this because fans have been waiting to hear from the owner and they’re unclear about the reasoning behind some of the moves this offseason.

Richardson is one of the league’s more engaging and fascinating owners. But he prefers to keep a low profile and doesn’t speak publicly with the media very often. I had a 45-minute chat with him when I was in Charlotte for minicamp and a shorter visit during the NFL owners meeting. But Richardson didn’t want any of those conversations on the record, so we’ll leave it that.

I’m glad that Richardson finally has addressed his fan base. Among the highlights, Richardson talked about the Panthers not being a big player in free agency.

“We have never been a big player in free agency under Marty Hurney,’’ Richardson said. “Many of our best free agent signings have not received much attention when we signed them. Jake Delhomme did not come with a lot of attention when he was signed. Players like Ricky Proehl, Mark Fields, Marlon McCree and Tyler Brayton came to the team with little notice, but were starters and big contributors. The years when we were big players in free agency did not seem to turn out as well. The approach has worked well over eight years and we still have the goal of a championship.’’

That part’s very true. Under Hurney and coach John Fox the Panthers have followed a philosophy of building through the draft. Their fans seem to have forgotten that as there has been outrage about the Panthers letting a lot of aging players go this offseason.

“They have been difficult for everybody -- the players released, the coaches and management, the staff, the fans,’’ Richardson said. “You can’t make the changes we have this offseason without feeling pain. Each of those players had a role in the success we enjoyed. However, we have young players who performed well for us at the end of the season and it is now time for their opportunity. It is a young roster but not one that is inexperienced.’’

Richardson also is one of the leaders most involved in the negotiations for a new labor agreement. He sounded somewhat optimistic that a new deal can be reached and help avoid a lockout in 2011.

“I can only say we are seeking a fair agreement that will be good for the players, our teams, and the fans,’’ Richardson said. “While I cannot predict the course of collective bargaining, I do know that we will have a new agreement, hopefully before the 2011 season.’’

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