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Bypassing free agency makes draft extremely important for Panthers

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CHARLOTTE (AP) -- Carolina general manager Marty Hurney has put plenty of pressure on himself for this weekend's draft.

Knowing the salary cap was increasing significantly, Hurney expected big deals and was unwilling to overpay. The Panthers' only major move was signing quarterback David Carr as a backup to Jake Delhomme.

But following an 8-8 season that began with Super Bowl aspirations, his plan makes the draft one of the most important in team history.

Hurney has said he's content with 21 of 22 starters returning from the injury-plagued 2006 season. But Carolina is extremely thin at safety, linebacker and defensive end, needs to add depth at tight end and receiver, and find a kickoff and punt returner.

This will also be the first draft with new director of college scouting Don Gregory, who replaced St. Louis-bound Tony Softli.