The NFL salary cap was instituted before the 1994 season. The Panthers, Jaguars, and Texans are the only teams that haven't faced a uncapped league (arguments could also be made for the "expansion" Baltimore Ravens in '96 and Cleveland Browns in '99). With the possibility of 2010 and future years being an uncapped salary year for the NFL, I wanted to look where the Panthers fit in the mix.
Since 1998 Forbes has provided a table of every NFL team's value before the start of the next season. The last list was before the 2008 season on September 10, 2008 (based on the 2007 season revenues). Since an uncapped year would mean each team would be free to spend their own money as they see fit (at least from my understanding) then looking at a team's value can help determine where they may fit in the battle for the big dogs.
I know it was suggested that an uncapped league wouldn't affect a team's qualify. But I have a hard time believing that. From my understanding the arguements in that post about FA, tenders, franchcise tags, etc, only apply to 2010. After that there is no contract so no restrictions. Of course a new players CBA will be needed before the 2011 season if football is to be played but there is no way of knowing what it would entail.
Obviously there are many other factors that go into this, as in the NFL television contracts, an owner's willingness to spend personal money, and many other variables that I'm sure I don't know. Yet looking at the team's value should provide a good basis for understanding their ability to attract quality players.
According to Forbes, the Panthers rank 14th in current value at $1.040 billion ($1,040,000,000) and increase of 9% over the previous year (12th). They hold a 18% debt to value ratio (21st) with $221 million in revenue (11th) and $22.3 million in operating income (17th). Based of those number the Panthers sit pretty much in the middle of the pack regarding team value and income. The debt ratio is a bit high however.
As I started this post the Panthers haven't been around in an uncapped league so the biggest question in all of this is how frugal is management. We know they won't go out and spend like Pacman Jones in a strip club, but would they loosen their walets enough to stay competitive? The Panthers have been a fairly successful franchise, Charlotte is a good city, and the team is doing decently in the income area. If the league returns in 2011 without a salary cap the Panthers should be in decent position. However, the players that just want big money would not find themselves in a Panthers uniform. That is not the way the Richardson's run the team. From my understanding of the way the team, they would find a way to stay true to Panther football. They would be competitive each year, but probably not the popular pick for a Superbowl.
But keep in mind it also could be worse, the Detroit Lions had an operating loss during the 2007 season. Ouch.