In short: No way, no how
Okay, fine... I'll give you a little more. Essentially what is happening in the 2012 free agency period is the Panthers are going to suffer through a drought in order to pay for the flood we had last year. Had the Big Cat not loosened the purse strings and let Hurney go wild we would be dealing with Jon Beason and Ryan Kalil both entering free agency, and being forced to RFA tag one, and franchise tag the other- a move that would have eaten up a lot more cap space than their extensions did.
As such, it's extremely unlikely we'll have anything near the activity we saw last year where the Panthers signed Jeremy Shockey, traded for Greg Olsen and locked up D-Will, Beason, Anderson, Davis, Kalil and Johnson to long term deals. There is a slim chance Carolina could shock the NFL with a speight of contract restructurings and cuts in order to get under the cap and free up money (as ERL suggested yesterday), but the problem is that restructuring has a cost.
More after the jump
The much maligned contract extension for Jake Delhomme (which the Panthers just got out from under) was a product of a restructuring. It wasn't simply that Carolina really believed in Jake and wanted him around for another 5 years, but rather they had to free up money in order to franchise tag Julius Peppers, who they thought they could convince to stay with another year of negotiations.
In highsight the Delhomme extension was a blessing and a curse, because if he was on a cheap deal, or the Panthers let him leave sooner we probably wouldn't have Cam Newton right now. However, the front office learnt a valuable lesson- to be careful in restructuring.
There's another element to this that's often left untouched: That the Panthers have had bad luck being big players in free agency. In the last 10 years the three most prominent signings Carolina made were Ken Lucas, Mike Wahle and Keyshawn Johnson. Lucas and Wahle were the toast of free agency, but never lived up to potential, while Keyshawn was productive, but rumored to be a cancer in the locker room. Make no mistake, Hurney and the front office remember those signings well and the handcuffs that were put on the organization with their contracts. As such it was the catalyst for a renewed onus on building through the draft.
Make no mistake, I'm not really sure what the Panthers have planned, but it seems to fly in the face of common sense and history to believe they'll splash out on any player this year who wasn't wearing a Panthers' jersey in 2011. Their primary concern will be looking forward to how they deal with Jonathan Stewart's looming extension, rather than getting into the rat race with the rest of the NFL.
Sometime quiet can be the best sound of all.