2013 NFL Free Agency: High hopes, and Percy Harvin

Ronald Martinez

In quietly photo-shopping Percy Harvin in a Carolina Panthers' jersey, NFL.com have once again given fans hope of adding an elite wide receiver this off-season. Is that even possible?

The last time the Carolina Panthers signed a coveted free agent was in 2006, when a then 34-year-old Keyshawn Johnson arrived in Charlotte, and was supposed to be the missing piece of the puzzle. Since that time fans have pined for an elite receiver to pair with Steve Smith, and NFL.com continues to give them hope -- this time insinuating that Percy Harvin will be a member of the Carolina Panthers.

Titled "Offseason 2013: This is what the future looks like" the league's site photo-shopped some of free agency's biggest players in new uniforms, to offer a glimpse at what could be. Despite being cash-strapped, and still over the cap -- Carolina got a player of their own.

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(Source: NFL.com)

Lets get the obvious out of the way first -- this isn't Percy Harvin. Unlike the rest of the players in the gallery, the Panthers simply get Harvin's jersey slapped on Steve Smith. Heck, you can even see Smitty's 'L.A' tattoo on his right elbow.

The message the photo sends is the important part, and marks the second time this off-season NFL.com has floated the idea of the Carolina Panthers landing a top receiver. Even prior to Ron Rivera's remarks about Mike Wallace, NFL.com analysts predicted the Charlotte would be his landing spot, and now it seems Harvin is the next in line.

Make no mistake, Harvin in Carolina would be ideal. A month ago I wrote about what he would bring to the table, but understood that a lack of cash and trade-able assets would make the move near-impossible. What's changed since early-February? Not much, but we now have a better idea of what receivers will be getting in the 2013 market.

As expected, salaries are continuing to rise. A by-product of the rookie pay scale that has given teams more free cash to splash around. Enter the Miami Dolphins, who last night signed Brian Hartline to a 5-year, $31-million contract to keep him in town with Ryan Tannehill. This is a player who just posted the first 1,000 yard season of his career -- and has six touchdowns in four years. In the same time period Harvin has 600 more yards receiving, and 14 more touchdowns -- all while adding another 683 on the ground, while adding another nine touchdowns between rushing and special teams.

If Hartline is worth $6-million per season, and Mike Wallace is expected to make around $10-million, where does that leave Harvin? His relationship with the Minnesota Vikings continues to deteriorate, and that will likely get him shipped out of town. Can the Panthers afford a $7-8 million per year deal with Harvin, even if they find a way to trade for him (remember, they don't have a lot of assets to trade)?

In short: No. It's fun to stare at a manipulated photograph and dream, but the reality of trading for, and paying Harvin flies in the face of what the team are trying to do with their cap situation. Sure, they could find a way to back-load a deal, and still get under the cap in 2013 -- but that's not the point. The plan is to be in a sustainable cap situation, and that isn't done by making the same mistakes Marty Hurney did.

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