Editor’s Note: With this spectacle of a post, allow me to introduce to you our newest staff writer: Tom Russell
This time last year the Panthers were looking towards the draft and the first pick even thinking that would be Andrew Luck. Things changed quickly. Luck chose to stay in school and the Panthers went to work signing their key players to big dollar long term contracts. Charles Johnson 6 years $76M, Jon Beason 6 year 51M, Ryan Kalil 6 year 49M, DeAngelo Williams 5 year 43M & Thomas Davis 5 year 36M. This coupled with signing Cam Newton gave us great hope for the 2012 season.
This was great, however it left them as one of 4 teams over the Cap for this year…..the Steelers and Raiders at 11.6M, Panthers at 9.6M and the Giants at 7.5M. This compared with teams like Tampa at 60M under puts the Panthers in some problematic situations as to how to create cap space to sign their own players that are now free agents such as Dan Connor, Jeremy Shockey and Geoff Hangartner. However, in cases like Thomas Davis, releasing him to save cap space may be difficult based on the formula listed below on how guaranteed dollars are a part of the cap even though the player has been released. Some savings would occur since his cap will be 11.9M. Still the savings would be approximately 4M+. Restructuring would increase that amount, however they would then have to pay his upcoming roster bonus.
Excerpt From the Commish Office: For example, if a player signs a four-year deal with a $1 million signing bonus, $250,000 of that bonus will count toward team salary for each contract year ($1 million divided evenly over the four-year contract is $250,000 per year). If a team releases a player, the unamoratized bonus money (the remaining prorated bonus money) counts immediately against the cap.
In our example above, if the player is released after Year 1, the remaining $750,000 (the prorated signing bonus money for years 2-4) counts against the cap in Year 2 — even though the player is no longer on the team’s roster.
So how do they create cap space? The following players represent a major portion of the this year’s cap. Steve Smith 8.2M, Chris Gamble 9.75M, Thomas Davis 11.9M, Jeff Otah 2.3M, Olindo Mare 3.2M & Travelle Wharton 7.7M. Restructuring Smith, Gamble and Wharton will probably happen. This gets them close, but not to the point they can make any major moves in free agency. Look for free agents such as Paul Oliver, safety for The Chargers that is a 5th year free agent and played for Rivera.
This affects how they attack the draft. Will they have created enough cap dollars to sign their own free agents, and pick up a couple of mid level free agents or focus their draft on filling holes on the defensive side of the ball?
They may choose to let players like Legedu Naanee go and fill that spot with a free agent they could afford such as Laurent Robinson or if a player like Alshon Jeffery (his size and speed causes concern) falls to them in the draft go that way, Releasing Jeff Otah would create a need for a right tackle and two very good ones are available at 8/9 in the draft (Riley Reiff and Jonathan Martin) they could choose.
Outside linebacker will be a need because Dan Connor is an unrestricted free agent and can make more dollars elsewhere similar to Richard Marshall last year. In the second half of the first round you see Courtney Upshaw, Zach Brown, Vontaze Burfict and Luke Kuechly that would be available. Next would be cover corners.
A lot of talk currently is about Dre Kirkpatrick who is starting to fall due to being more of a run stopper due to his height and foot speed (over 4.5).Where some teams are considering switching him to safety, currently not a Panther need. Cover corners the Panthers would jump at would be Alfonso Dennard and Janoris Jenkins, however they will get a lot of attention at the end of the first round and the Panthers would need to move up from the 40th pick to get one of them.
This gets us to Jeremy Shockey, do they try to resign him costing probably 2.5M, try to replace him with Gary Barnidge or if Greg Allen from Clemson or Coby Fleener TE Stanford are available in the draft take one of them?
I left defensive tackle/defensive end to last. The Panthers are currently loaded along the defensive line, plus they used two early picks last year on Fua and MClain and signed Ron Edwards as a free agent so a move here would mean throwing in the towel on some of them. Some talk has the Panthers interested in Michael Brockers from LSU, but that would be a big gamble since he’s a one year starter. Another player they are looking at is Quinton Coples, but the problem is he’s not a pass rusher being more of a run stopping defensive end and they just signed Charles Johnson long term. Melvin Ingram may be the best of the group. Either way their first 2 picks must count for players that can make immediate impacts since they gave up the 3rd round pick in the Greg Olsen trade and are tight cap wise.
So we watch their interviews from the combine, free agent workouts and team days to get an idea of where they go. The chance is there to get the pieces to move this team to the playoffs in the next 2 years.