I play incoming GM, and look at several roster moves that need to be made in 2013.
Carolina's search for a new general manager is ongoing, and the organization wont likely have a replacement lined up until the end of the season. This is when Ernie Accorsi and Danny Morrison can interview executives on current NFL teams, which is the most probable direction for the GM search. Whoever fills the role may not have an intimate knowledge of the organization, but hopefully they'll understand talent. Today I'm playing the role of potential GM, and looking at who should stay, who should go, and who needs to re-structure in order to remain with the Carolina Panthers.
There are a few criteria being used to make these determinations:
1. Talent -- Obviously this is the most important thing for a player to have, and should always be the #1 concern in building a team; provided the money doesn't make keeping the player untenable.
2. Being able to field a team -- Cutting swathes through the 53 is easy, but remember that Carolina are still going to need to field a team in 2013. One simply can't run roughshod through the roster, leaving the Panthers with the most talented 15 players. In year one the roster will need to remain mostly intact, and slowly a new GM can pare back.
3. Financials -- Sometimes it's better to keep less talented players on cheap rookie contracts, than more able players at high veteran minimums; this is especially prevalent for depth players.
4. Long term goal -- Perhaps a player hasn't found his footing yet, but the potential is there. This is a wild-card area that allows players to remain on the roster who may not have shown much so far
Ready? Here we go.
Outgoing free agents
Derek Anderson QB Keep short term (1-2 years)
Antwan Applewhite DE Let go
Gary Barnidge TE Let go
Jeremy Bridges G Let go
Richie Brockel RB Let go
Dwan Edwards DT Keep short term (1-2 years)
Ben Hartsock TE Let go
Sherrod Martin S Keep short term (1-2 years)
Captain Munnerlyn CB Keep short term (1-2 years)
Louis Murphy WR Let go
Andre Neblett DT Let go
Jason Phillips LB Keep short term (1-2 years)
Jordan Senn LB Keep short term (1-2 years)
The decisions here are based on the Panthers' ability to find new talent, and re-populate the roster quickly. Sherrod Martin and Captain Munnerlyn have their issues, but building the secondary will take time. Munnerlyn and Martin have specific talents, and while the long-term goal will be to find upgrades, gutting the secondary isn't the way to go.
Jason Phillips and Jordan Senn are two of the Panthers best special teams players. For this, and their ability to be effective starters in a pinch, they make the cut.
In my vision the Panthers part ways with two tight ends -- Gary Barnidge, and Ben Hartsock. We're seeing that rookie TE's are able to make an impact in the NFL, and Carolina needs to add one to pair with Greg Olsen who is a better blocker than Barnidge, and a better pass catcher than Hartsock.
This is a situation where a player's current cap hit is not worth the return the organization is getting. A restructure is typically involves a player the team want to keep long term, but at a more cap-friendly figure. These are the players I would ask to restructure their deals. I have listed the money owed, and the amount that would need to be paid in order to cut them.
2013: $8.7 million, 2014: $6.7 million -- Cut figure $6.0 million
This is a primary example of a player who should get a new deal. Jordan Gross may not be the long-term answer at left tackle anymore, but he's still a very good offensive lineman. A four-year deal would put him at 36 years old at the end of the deal, which is still an acceptable age for an OL.
2013: $5.25 million, 2014: $6.5 million, 2015: $7.5 million, 2016: $8.75 million -- Cut figure $13.32 million
There's little doubt Beason needs to stay, but the cap figure has to become more manageable. It's going to be very difficult to argue that Luke Kuechly should move from middle linebacker, making Beason an extremely good outside linebacker for the Panthers. More money upfront, in exchange for cap-relief down the road is the answer here.
This is the hard part. Weighing the decision to cut is based purely on cap freedom moving forward, and giving the organization options down the road. It isn't easy, and doesn't mean these players are done in the NFL -- just an unfortunate cost/benefit analysis.
2013: $4.75 million, 2014: $5.75 million, 2015: $6.75 million -- Cut figure: $9.6 million
D-Will's cut figure is just $900,000 more than his 2013 cap hit, which is a large reason for this decision. A cut after June 1 would allow the Panthers to spread the $9.6 million cap hit over two years, rather than take it all immediately; $4.8 is manageable, and frees up almost $4 million in year one.
2013: $2.9 million, 2014: $3.9 million, 2015: $3.9 million -- Cut figure: $4.2 million
A $4.2 million cap hit as a cut vs. a $4.4 million cap hit to keep makes this a fairly easy decision. The issue for Carolina is that they have a glut of talent at linebacker now, and players able to make more of an impact waiting in the wings. If the Panthers can re-structure Jon Beason it behooves them to draft depth players, move Beason to the strongside, Kuechly in the middle, and keep Thomas Davis on the weakside.
2013: $900,000 -- Cut figure $133,000
Better options can, and will be found through free agency and the draft.
2013: $555,000, 2014: $645,000 -- Cut figure: $257,000
Self explanatory for a lot of reasons. Better depth can be found in free agency.
2013: $575,000 -- Cut figure $178,460
Same as above. A half-million for a barely used WR isn't the way to build an effective team.
2013: $575,000 -- Cut figure $325,000
The Panthers need to find a third-string QB late in the draft, or as an undrafted free agent. Mold someone behind Derek Anderson out of the gate.
2013: $715,000 -- Cut figure $0
Saving almost 3/4 of a million for the Panthers? Easy decision. The 2013 draft is kicker-rich, and it's now time for Carolina to find a long term option.
Salary cap situation
Assuming the rookie pay scale for the 2013 class, outgoing free agents, and cuts, under this plan the Carolina Panthers will have approximately $6.5 million in open cap space. This figure does not take into account any money saved by proposed re-structuring, as that is too difficult to project.
This isn't a lot of money, especially given the amount of players who will be needed, but you're looking at a total of 38 players on the active roster, with 44 being proposed following the draft. Finding nine players with $6.5 million is difficult, but not impossible -- and ultimately this isn't about 2013, it's about the cap situation moving forward.