Dec 23, 2012; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers fullback Mike Tolbert (35) sits on the bench during the third quarter against the Oakland Raiders at Bank of America Stadium. Panthers defeated the Raiders 17-6. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Salary Cap an Obstacle to Three NFC South Teams, Including the Carolina Panthers

Unfortunately for Panthers fans, new GM David Gettleman has quite the mess to clean up with the situation with the team’s salary cap for 2013. The Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints were both more than $10 million over the salary cap as of January. The Atlanta Falcons aren’t much better off, having about $5 million in cap space.

All three teams, and indeed all NFL teams, routinely re-work big stars’ contracts to help with salary cap math for each season and this one is no exception. Center Ryan Kalil had to rework his. It’s no big deal and a part of the cap magic that GMs are hired to do.

However, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the exception to that this season within the division. Even before reworking anyone’s contract, they went into the offseason with over $31 million to spend, leaving them as the only team with a decent chance of signing a key player from free agency once that opens up on March 12.

The Bucs made one of the larger splashes in free agency last season and could do so again this year. Likewise, the Panthers stayed pretty quiet for the same reason as this year – no cap room. That’s a large part of the reason Marty Hurney was fired.

I’ve since forgotten which RB was signed to a big deal first, but the point is I DO recall feeling a bit odd when he gave the other a big contract. I knew at least one of them was being overpaid at the time.

Imagine my confusion when they signed fullback Mike Tolbert to yet another big contract. Or perhaps you remember feeling it along with millions of others. I even said to a friend, “What does the guy (Carolina GM Marty Hurney) think we’re doing, running the Wishbone?”

Don’t get me wrong, they all have a lot of talent and their skill sets are diverse, giving the Panthers the best overall backfield trio in the NFL. They take up way too much cap space for similar positions.

Now, it’s coming back to bite them.

As we all know, the Carolina Panthers have multiple needs and might have been able to sign someone if they’d had better cap management in the past. The problem didn’t occur in a day and neither will the cure, but Gettleman has been busy starting the task.

The situation makes the Bucs the team in the NFC South best poised to make personnel moves for the better after last year’s 7-9 season under then-rookie Head Coach Greg Schiano.

David Gettleman will really have to work to keep Carolina out of the basement as a result. Of all three 7-9 teams in the NFC South last year, two of them are known to be holding some good cards.

The other team is the Carolina Panthers.

The Bucs have the dough to acquire a free agent or two, and don’t forget that Head Coach Sean Payton is back from his “suspension” last year. Oh, Roger Goodell is a favorite in New Orleans. His photos sell briskly…for those needing a good photo for their dartboard.

The Saints won’t be caught with a horrible first half of the season as they were last year, either. Sean Payton won’t let that happen and things will be a lot more stable with both he and QB Drew Brees around. Their defense is a work in progress with a new OC, but Payton is one of the best coaches around. That’s why Steve Spagnuolo only lasted one year in the first place.

But what can Carolina do? They’ve got no money for free agents and a lot of holes to fill just like New Orleans. Things are tense in Charlotte.

What the Panthers can do is make some shrewd and inexpensive moves on the low end of free agency and take some chances someone will pan out with some “surprise” upside perhaps. Stranger things have happened in the past and their names are Victor Cruz and Adrian Foster.

Both young men were undrafted free agents and you know the rest.

Along those lines, Gettleman has made the opening gambit in the chess match that is the NFL. staff writer extraordinaire Tony Cardwell wrote a piece on it when he was signed a week and a half ago, which you can read here. What it means is that Ron Edwards is probably on the way out.

Something tells me he won’t be the last. The Panthers need to shed dollars somehow and many other teams have already begun the process.

Two months and counting for the 2013 NFL draft.

Follow me on Twitter @Ken_Dye

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Tags: Carolina Panthers Carolina Panthers Salary Cap 2013 NFC South

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