The Panthers are currently drafting at #9, and if they win Sunday they could even move a few spots higher. So here is how nfldraftscout.com ranks (without reguard to the teams drafting at those positions) the best players around those draft spots.
8. DT Devon Still (6-4, 310, 5.06-40) - he can play 4-3 NT, 4-3 DT, and 3-4 DE.
9. G David DeCastro (6-5, 312, 5.22-40) - a great LG.
10. CB Dre Kirkpatrick (6-2, 192, 4.49-40)
11. DE Quinton Coples (6-6, 285, 4.76-40)
12. WR Michael Floyd (6-3, 224, 4.54-40)
13. OT Jonathan Martin (6-6, 305, 5.29-40)
Given those choices, CB Dre Kirkpatrick or DT Devon Still might be the Panthers top pick, but thanks to Rick Bates' great post on the salary cap, it might push them toward another decision. With only 37 players under contract for 2012, and counting the other 16 roster spots, 10 at the minimum rookie salary, plus signing 6 draft picks, leaves the Panthers $4,280,000 over the 2012 salary cap. Now OT Gary Williams and TE Gary Barnidge have also signed for 2012, placing the Panthers around $6.1 million over the cap. So even if the Panthers find a way to cut that $6.1 million, that leaves no cap space to re-sign any of their own free agents (my guess at what it might cost), TE Jeremy Shockey ($3 mil), G/C Geoff Hangartner ($1.5 mil), MLB Dan Connor ($1 mil), WR Legedu Naanee ($1 mil), RG Geoff Schwartz ($1.1 mil), DE/OLB Antwan Applewhite ($1 mil), QB Derek Anderson ($1 mil), G Jordan Senn ($800,000), LS J. J. Jansen ($700,000), G Mackenzy Bernadeau ($1 mil), TE/FB Richie Brockel ($400,000), DT Frank Kearse ($400,000), CB R. J. Sanford ($400,000), LB Thomas Williams ($400,000), LB Jason Phillips ($400,000), and WR Seyi Ajirotutu ($400,000), and I tried to estimate their re-signing cost on the low end.
So how can the Panthers create more cap room? Cut or trade players? Some of they players will cost more to cut or trade than to keep, DE Charles Johnson ($11 mil more), RB DeAngelo Williams ($11.9 mil more), C Ryan Kalil ($8.8 mil more), MLB Jon Beason ($10.5 mil more), QB Cam Newton ($7,259,000 mil more), TE Greg Olsen ($875,000), OLB James Anderson ($4,190,000 mil more), also S Charles Godfrey ($1.2 mil more), Some other players will also cost more to cut than to keep once the cost of their replacement is figure in, even at a minimum rookie contract, K Orlando Mare (cost around $200,000 more), OLB Thomas Davis (cost around $100,000 more), DT Terrell McClain (cost around $380,000 more), DE Greg Hardy (cost around $365,000 more), NT Sione Fua (cost around $285,000 more), CB Brandon Hogan (cost around $285,000 more), and WR Kealoha Pilares (cost around $50,000 more).
Here is a list of Panthers players who can be cut or traded that would save salary cap space, add around $350-400,000 for the cost of minimum salary replacement.
$7,750,000 - WR Steve Smith (Pro Bowl)
$7,500,000 - LT Jordan Gross (Pro Bowl 1st alternate)
$5,700,000 - LG Travelle Wharton
$2,511,250 - RB Jonathan Stewart
$1,550,000 - P Jason Baker
$1,550,000 - CB Chris Gamble
$1,076,000 - RT Jeff Otah
$890,000 - TE Ben Hartsock
$866,666 - DT Ron Edwards
$770,000 - CB Darius Butler
$700,000 - S Sherrod Martin
$700,000 - RB Mike Goodson
$700,000 - CB Captain Munneryln
$615,000 - DT Andre Neblett
$594,182 - S Jordan Pugh
$589,500 - WR David Gettis
$586,053 - DE Greg Hardy
$490,000 - QB Jimmy Clausen
$465,000 - CB Josh Thomas
$446,500 - WR Armanti Edwards
$410,000 - WR Brandon LaFell
Of the big money savers (over $1 million in savings), WR Steve Smith, LT Jordan Gross, RB Jonathan Stewart, and CB Chris Gamble are safe from being cut or traded, with RT Jeff Otah a maybe, and after that it's just the small fry left. The Panthers will have their work cut out for them trying to re-negotiate contracts downward, to get under the salary cap.
The only certain candidate to either have his contact reduced by several million dollars, or be cut, and save $5.7 million is LG Travelle Wharton. Juggle the numbers any way you wish, but it looks like Wharton may have to go. That's what I mean by the title. Being almost forced to cut Wharton, it might force the Panthers to draft G David DeCastro with their 1st round pick, to replace Wharton. That is unless they decide to re-sign RG Geoff Schwartz an G/C Geoff Hangartner (moving him to LG to replace Wharton), use OT Gary Williams to replace Wharton, or draft a G in later rounds, and expect him to start.