There's little doubt the Carolina Panthers are in an ugly cap situation moving forward. A spending spree in 2011 mandated by Marty Hurney, and signed off on by Jerry Richardson has put the Panthers in the worst hole of their short history. On ESPN's NFC South blog, Pat Yaskinskas outlined the cap situation moving forward, and while he's correct -- the base numbers only tell part of the story.
The primary issue with looking solely at salary committed is just that -- focusing on the salary committed. There's a reason why salary matters very little, and ultimately it's all about the signing bonuses players are getting. It's bonuses that teams can't avoid, and get stuck on. So while Yaskinskas is correct in saying:
The Panthers already have $107 million committed toward the 2015 cap and that's for only 19 players.
There's a lot more to it than that. Let's get into the contracts of the big earners in 2015.
$9.75 million salary, $6.25 million total bonuses = $16 million cap hit
Accounting for 15% of the cap hit alone, Big Money is earning... well... big money. At this point he's a 30-year-old defensive end, and making way too much. This is the breaking point in the deal, one where the team can cut CJ with a June 1 designation, and reducing his cap hit to $3 million -- saving $13 million alone.
He is a prime candidate to be released or restructured.
$7.5 million salary, $4.25 million total bonuses = $11.75 million cap hit
Beason will absolutely not see this money. With no signing bonus set to hit in 2016, the Panthers can cut with a June 1 designation for a $2 million hit, or eat the $4 million and still save almost $8 million.
$6.75 million salary, $3.45 million total bonuses = $10.20 million cap hit
There's a good chance DeAngelo is cut following the 2013 season, if not before. Any time you see a salary double the remaining signing bonus it's a sign that player wont be with the team.
$5.0 million salary, $2.1 million total bonuses = $7.10 million cap hit
Godfrey's salary triples following the 2013 season, meaning the he'll be restructured, or cut.
$7.25 million salary, $3.1 million total bonuses = $10.30 million cap hit
Another salary that triples, Davis wont see this money. Either a $1.5 million June 1 hit, or a $3.1 million outright. Either way, they're saving at least $7 million.
Yes, things look really bad when you look at the totality of the situation. The Panthers have over $100-million committed three years down the road, but given these five players account for over 50% of the committed cap, it's not nearly as bad as the big picture.
Of these five players, who are really expected to perform at a high level at a vital position in 2015? Charles Johnson. With the exception of the Panthers' top pass rusher, this list is populated with two outside linebackers, a backup running back, and a capable (not elite) safety.
It will be on Dave Gettleman to replace these players through the draft -- and there's time to do it.