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Jake Delhomme's release opens the door for Hart grad Matt Moore

Posted: March 5, 2010 1:44 p.m.
Updated: March 5, 2010 1:41 p.m.

Quarterback Jake Delhomme wipes tears from his eyes as he discusses being cut by the Carolina Panthers NFL football team during a news conference in Charlotte, N.C. Friday, March 5, 2010.

 
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Carolina general manager Marty Hurney choked up while calling releasing Jake Delhomme the toughest decision he's ever had make. Panthers coach John Fox was in tears and pleaded with fans to remember the good moments.

Ending the Delhomme era proved difficult - and costly - for the team's brass.

Hurney and Fox sat at a podium Friday morning to announce their about-face: A year after giving Delhomme a lucrative contract extension, the only quarterback to lead the franchise to the Super Bowl was released to make way for new starter Matt Moore.

The reason: a career-high 18 interceptions in 2009, and 23 in his final 12 games.

"It's really hard to describe how hard this was," a red-faced Hurney said. "It's hard not to get emotional when you talk about it because he epitomizes everything we want. He's been an excellent player for us."

Fox twice welled up with tears in explaining the decision, which came despite the fact Carolina still owes Delhomme more than $12.5 million in guaranteed money. After a 58-40 record as a starter over seven seasons, the 35-year-old Delhomme is out of work after his stunning one-year decline.

"He's done some great things for this team. Two (NFC) championship games, a Super Bowl, all those comeback victories," Fox said. "I'm not sure I've had any more respect for an NFL football player than Jake Delhomme."

The Panthers also released defensive tackles Damione Lewis and Maake Kemoeatu, and linebackers Na'il Diggs and Landon Johnson in the start of a youth movement.

None of those moves, however, resonated around these parts like releasing Delhomme, a feel-good story who rose from obscurity to nearly leading the Panthers to the championship in his first season as a starter in 2003.

Delhomme was scheduled to address reporters later Friday.

"It's tough. As a friend and a teammate he was always someone you could count on and did things the right way and was a leader and a family man," left tackle Jordan Gross said. "I'm glad to have him in my life and it's hard when you learn that he's not going to be around anymore."

Despite leading the team in nearly every passing category, Delhomme began a quick demise in the 2008 playoffs. After taking Carolina to a 12-4 record and the NFC South title, Delhomme threw five interceptions and lost a fumble in an ugly 38-13 home loss to Arizona in the NFC divisional playoffs.

Undeterred, the Panthers gave Delhomme a contract extension last spring and brought in no legitimate competition in training camp. Then Delhomme threw four more interceptions and lost a fumble in Carolina's Week 1 loss to Philadelphia.

It was the start of a miserable season that left Carolina 4-7 when Delhomme broke a finger on his throwing hand. Moore relieved him and threw eight touchdown passes and two interceptions as the Panthers won four of their last five games to finish 8-8.

The Panthers on Wednesday gave the 25-year-old Moore the highest restricted free-agent tender of $3.043 million for one season. The next day, Delhomme was let go instead of having him return as a backup.

"I was taught a long time ago that you have to make the right decision at that time for your football team," Hurney said. "And we just came to the decision that it was time. I think when you come to that decision, that's when you make it."

Fox wouldn't say if they'll pursue another veteran quarterback to add depth. The Panthers will also likely have an entirely new defensive line after releasing Lewis and Kemoeatu, who was recovering from a torn Achilles' tendon.

Hurney said Dan Connor and James Anderson would likely compete for Diggs' old starting job.

"Sometimes you have to force yourself to give those guys that opportunity and that experience," Hurney said. "We wouldn't do these things without those players there."

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