I make no bones about my fondness for G/T Geoff Schwartz; I think he's the kind of versatile plug-and-play offensive linemen that most teams strive to have to their roster. Spending time at both RG and RT he's a player that could be relied on to step in at a pinch to step in where needed and do a competent job as a starter. Now, with the Panthers decision not to tag Schwartz as a restricted free agent an already questionable offensive line has been made a lot more dicey. If you were shying away from the need at the position this draft now's the time it should probably move to the top of your list.
Rotoworld are trying to assert that Schwartz wasn't healthy, however their source for this is a single Joe Person tweet referring to his IR status in 2011. There is no evidence Schwartz's rehab wasn't going as planned, or that he wasn't in a state where he would be ready for training camp. I believe Darin Gantt has for more of an insight into the situation- that he just wasn't worth the cost.
I think @GeoffSchwartz can play. He'll going to find a new home soon. But tender's a big number if he's a backup, so they'll look around.— Darin Gantt (@daringantt) March 7, 2012
At the end of the day Darin is right. Even if the Panthers were to tender Schwartz at the 7th round level he would be slated to make a tag fee of $1.26 million in 2012, which is far too much for a backup offensive lineman coming off injury. Gantt asserts that the Panthers probably tried to play hardball and get a lower cap figure, but Schwartz balked at the idea.
More after the jump
The offensive line is now in flux. As it stands Garry Williams is your starting RG- exciting huh? Some fans are pointing to the departure of Schwartz as a bell-weather that indicates Geoff Hangartner will stay, but I disagree. Why would the Panthers go through losing Schwartz over $1.26 million only to sign a 7th year veteran who even at the minimum would earn $825,000 this year? It doesn't make sense.
I believe the Panthers will play the market and look for another team's castoff to fill that role, preferably someone with only a few years experience where the minimum contract would be more manageable.
However, there's another itch that I can't quite scratch- what if this is all part of a bigger plan? In 2011 we saw a new and aggressive front office who struck quickly and made sure they tied up their targets quickly. Granted, maybe I'm falling in love with the cloak and dagger a little too much, but there's something to be said for making two roster moves after a month of inactivity while the rest of the league are preoccupied with Peyton Manning leaving the Colts.
With the signing of K Justin Medlock today there was a renewed belief that the Panthers could cut ties with Olindo Mare. In the past I thought it would be cost prohibitive to do so, but in reality it's not nearly as bad as I thought. In 2012 Mare is slated to make $3.2 million. Should the Panthers decide to cut Mare prior to June 1st and eat the accelerated portion of his signing bonus this year they would be on the hook for $3 million total. Medlock is scheduled to make $390,000- so the Panthers would be looking at just an extra $90,000 if they wanted to get Mare off the books.
It doesn't necessarily make the Panthers bigger free agent players this year, but it shows a mentality inside the organization to pinch the pennies and perhaps sever ties with players we thought would be roster locks. With Jimmy Clausen's roster bonus looming, a possible re-structuring of Thomas Davis and a few other players who could be surprise cuts I wouldn't be surprised to see the Panthers make a shocking mid-level signing we didn't think possible.
Here is how I see the financials breaking down with recent numbers courtesy of Spotrac: layers currently under contract: $119,079,019
Projected 2012 cap: $123,000,000
Room: $3.92 million
Possible cuts (money saved in parentheses):
TE Ben Hartsock: $900,000
LB Kion Wilson: $615,000
QB Jimmy Clausen: $2 million
CB Joshua Thomas: $450,000
RB Mike Goodson: $500,000
DE Eric Norwood: $490,000
Total: $4.95 million
If you were to add a likely Thomas Davis re-structure to this figure (saving an estimated $5 million) the Panthers would have right around $12 million in cap space- more than enough to re-sign Shockey, Senn, sign the draft class as well as adding a FA valued around $4-5 million.
Time will tell, but it's funny to see how one move can show the trajectory of an off-season.