Carolina Panthers salary cap: Can they keep Mike Tolbert?

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

A fan favorite could be a cap casualty, especially as the Panthers turn to a new offensive coordinator.

Incoming general manager Dave Gettleman finds himself in a salary cap crunch. Along with the obvious big name moves, smaller adjustments will need to be made. In this capacity fullback Mike Tolbert goes under the microscope -- can the Panthers afford to keep him?

Carolina signed Mike Tolbert last year in a two-fold effort: Firstly, it allowed the offense to gain a dynamic player who had history in the offense. Secondly, it was an insurance policy for Jonathan Stewart -- should the running back leave for free agency. The structure of the contract gave the Panthers flexibility, and looking at the deal now, it's flexibility they'll likely use.

Mike Tolbert is set to make $1.0 million in 2013 -- but it's the additional $1.5 million in the form of an option bonus that could be a sticking point. It pushes his cap figure to $3.42 million. The cost to the team if he's cut: $1.2 million, which could be reduced to $600,000 over the next two years. There's no doubt he's talented, but outside of Ron Chudzinski's offense the flexibility of an offensive fullback is a luxury, not a necessity. Carolina locked up Jonathan Stewart, and when everyone is healthy Mike Tolbert becomes the Panthers' forth rushing option.

Dave Gettleman has a choice to try an push a restructure, locking him up long term -- or erasing almost $3.5 million from the cap. It's not a lot of money across the 53 man roster, but it's significant for a fullback. It remains to be seen what a new offensive coordinator has planned for the team, but one of the NFL's highest paid fullbacks in 2013 is a luxury a team with cap issues doesn't have.

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