I stumbled upon this list of pending Panther free agents (serious props to RocknRolla at Carolina Huddle... excellent research), and it seriously started me thinking about cap space, draft picks, and free agency in a whole new light. It would appear that the 2012 salary cap is not going to move up much, if any, and per Pat Y., the Panthers currently have the 3rd highest committed dollars against the 2012 cap.
We spent a lot last year to lock up our core players and bring in a few notable free agents (Shockey, Olsen, Naanee, etc.) So, it's not a terrible thing that we're a bit handcuffed this off-season. Then again, when looking at some of the names on the list below, it does make me wonder who will stay and who will go. The answer to this question, I think more than anything, will determine the Draft strategy for the 2012 draft. There are some tough decisions ahead for BAMF and Hurney, as I'm sure you'll agree when you see the list below... the jump.
First off, a quick primer on Free Agent categories (further explained here, for info-maniacs):
Unrestricted - Can negotiate and sign with any team
Restricted - Old owner can match any offer from another team, and can receive draft pick compensation if player leaves
Exclusive rights - Basically must work out a deal with the existing team (like a draft pick)
Panthers' 2012 Free Agents:
Unrestricted Free Agents
Jeremy Shockey, TE
Geoff Hangartner, OG
Dan Connor, MLB
Derek Anderson, QB
Legedu Naanee, WR
Antwan Applewhite, OLB
J.J. Jansen, LS
Jordan Senn, OLB
Mackenzy Bernadeau, OG
Richie Brockel, TE
Cletis Gordon, DB
Restricted Free Agent
Jason Phillips, LB
Geoff Schwartz, OT
Thomas Williams, OLB
Seyi Ajirotutu, WR
Exclusive Rights Free Agents
R.J. Stanford, DB
Frank Kearse, DT
The post goes on to provide extensive detail (very interesting) about current (non-FA) player salaries + likely bonuses; including the cap hit if we cut/trade them. I'm only going to mention a few, but go to the source if you want more. The first number is the projected salary commitment, while the number in parentheses is the cap hit if the Panthers cut or trade the player.
Here are the no-brainer cuts, from where I'm sitting:
Jason Baker, P...................$1,612,500 ($62,500) = $1,550,000 cap cut
Ben Hartsock, TE...............$1,040,000 ($150,000) = $890,000 cap cut
Sherrod Martin, S...............$936,000 ($236,000) = $700,000 cap cut (Free Agent in 2013)
Mike Goodson, RB...............$823,000 ($123,000 = $700,000 cap cut (Free agent in 2013)
That would give us a quick trim of $3,840,000 by my calculation.
Okay, now we're business men, and I'm giving you some big-money "head scratchers" to consider:
Jordan Gross, OT...............$9,500,000 ($2,000,000) = $7,500,000 cap cut
Steve Smith, WR................$9,450,000 ($1,700,000) = $7,750,000 cap cut (Free Agent in 2013)
Travelle Wharton, OG.........$8,100,000 ($2,400,000) = $5,700,000 cap cut
Jonathan Stewart, RB.........$2,611,250 ($100,000) = $2,511,250 cap cut (Free Agent in 2013)
Then, there's Thomas Davis:
Thomas Davis, OLB.............$5,900,000 ($5,600,000) .... Expect to restructure this deal.
Without some tough cuts (or Hurney magic), we won't be able to re-sign guys like Shockey, Senn, etc. I don't know yet how I feel about this, but I present a proposal for your consideration and discussion. Given these numbers and our current cap position, would you consider trading a 32-year-old Gross or 31-year-old Wharton, and move up for Matt Kalil?
Note: I was actually inspired by a comment James made on the open thread yesterday; something he had heard about how much the FO likes Kalil.