Onatolu was supposed to assist on special teams, but was injured for much of the 2012 season. He, along with Reggie Smith were both ineffective when it was assumed they would be large parts of the Panthers' special teams coverage units after being signed as free agents.
Signing Chase Blackburn likely foreshadowed this move. There was little need for the team to keep another outside linebacker with special teams experience, and there could be considerable interest in late-round linebackers in April's draft.
Onatolu was one of Carolina's top-51 salary players -- meaning cutting him saves against the salary cap. Set to be paid $775,000 in 2013, his release is more likely shuffling the cards prior to next week, rather than being indicative of any future trade move.