Panthers Salary Cap Update: It's More Than Tight

ESPN blogger Pat Yasinkas posted a quick update on the NFC South's salary cap position. As we have suspected the Panthers are so tight expect some actions to address it come March 1st:

According to numbers obtained by ESPN.com, the Carolina Panthers have a division-high $129.9 million committed toward 2012. That puts the Panthers No. 3 in the league in the moment and they’ll have to make some moves to be compliant with the cap before the league year starts in March.

As far what the projected cap will be in 2012 I'm seeing estimates all over the board. From a low of $109M to $116M to $120M to the highest, $125M. Regardless of which of those numbers you prefer any way you slice it the Panthers are over the cap. So that means someone has to go...but who?

We shall take a look, after the jump...

Let's assume the cap is $120M as a median of the estimates I found. Here's some of the players I'm thinking might be cap casualties to cut about $10M from the Panthers current 2012 salary total:

  • OL Geoff Hangartner - $2.8M I hate to see him go but we have younger players that can fill this role
  • LB Thomas Davis - $2.25M He could return with a restructured (and lower) deal
  • P Jason Baker - $1.55M Performance has been in steady decline and there a several good punters in this draft
  • K Olindo Mare - $2.1M When the ball doesn't go through and the fans begin to boo that's O Mare!
  • RB Mike Goodson - $565K Went into the dog house never to be seen again
  • Total: ~$9.8M

Believe it or not but everyone else is either a key player who isn't going anywhere or a player making the NFL minimum of $490K. So those cuts would get us pretty close but remember we still have to fill those slots which would cost $2.5M just at the NFL minimum. I doubt we could get a decent kicker for less than Mare is making but I bet we could draft a punter to make the minimum.

As I went through the salary list I saw several 'keepers' that I think could clear some space if we renegotiated their salary:

  • WR Steve Smith - $7.75M The Panthers 2nd highest salaried player in 2012 is also on the last year of his contract. Don't even come here saying let him walk. I say give him another 4-5 yr deal and a reduced 2012 cap hit.
  • LT Jordan Gross - $8.5M Gross still has three years left on his deal so a restructure would probably be costly for the Panthers in the long run.
  • LG Travelle Wharton - $5.7M With only two years remaining oh his deal Wharton might be a good candidate to get the Panthers to squeeze under the bar
  • RB Jonathan Stewart - $1.3M Stewart has a low cap hit but he is in the final year of his deal and I'm sure is looking to make bank in a new deal. With the RB franchise tag estimated at around $7.8M I'm sure they would rather sign a new deal this offseason. In the end Stewart may cost us more.
What is also not accounted for but should surely be included in whether to offer TE Jeremy Shockey another deal. He added some value in 2011 and I think he can have the same impact in 2012.

Also RT Jeff Otah is in the last year of his deal. Should the Panthers let him play out the last season of his contract before offering a new deal? Given his injury history it might be the prudent thing to do.

So in the end my dreams of landing a big time free agent this offseason now appear slim at best. Our 2012 playoff chances will most likely ride on the return of injured players and maybe a couple key pieces via the draft. This is not the best position for an up and coming team to be in but it will have to do. Let's see what Rivera can do with them.
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