When Yahoo ran a story yesterday about the top paid athletes in the country the Carolina Panthers became the butt of many jokes when it was revealed that DE Charles Johnson was paid a jaw-dropping $34 million last season, the first of a six year contract. However, when you realize how the Panthers and GM Marty Hurney structured Big Money's... well, big money- you'll see a way they managed to secure one of the NFL's top defensive ends at a fantastic price long term.
6 years, $72 million isn't exactly chump change, but a good front office can make that figure very manageable with smart cap management. In his contract $32 million was guaranteed, and the way most teams handle this is stretch the guaranteed money out across the life of the deal. So, in CJ's case his guaranteed money alone would account for $5.33 million per year. This is typcially a cap-prohibitive figure that could potentially stifle the Panthers' ability to sign future players, because with over $5 million in guaranteed money, plus salary it would mean Johnson would not only earn over $10 million yearly, but prevent them from being able to cut or trade on the back end.
However, with the news the Panthers paid almost half of Johnson's entire contract in the first year it leaves them with a manageable cap number.
2012: $10 million, 2013: $12 million, 2014: $14 million, 2015: $15 million, 2016: $16 million
Furthermore, as alluded to, paying the guaranteed money up front allows the Panthers flexibility in the contract down the road to trade or cut Johnson without taking a cap hit. Critique Hurney all you want, but you can't argue that the guy knows how to manage a salary cap; as a point of reference over the same time period the Bears never pay Julius Peppers less than $13.8 million, and his deal caps out at $18.8.