Dave Gettleman has had the hardest job in the NFL from an executive perspective when he arrived in Charlotte. He needed to find a way to reconcile a $10-million salary cap shortfall, and a bevy of bloated contracts, all while attempting to add free agents. This task is half-complete. He's trimmed the budget, acquired talent, and now he'll need to wait until 2014 to cut more from another tight cap situation. Relying on third-party websites has made it difficult to know where exactly the team stands, but last night the NFLPA released a full top-51 cap report for all 32 teams, clearing up any misconceptions.
The Carolina Panthers currently have $120,044,893.00 against the cap, $6.187 million in space.
A buffer of $3.65 million in cap carryover has given the team some room, and they have 50 players on contract right now -- according to the NFLPA report. This was generated at 8 pm ET, so it should include Domenik Hixon's deal, assuming it was finalized and submitted to the league by the 4 pm deadline.
Where do the Panthers go from here?
There are still a few small cuts and signings that could be made, but realistically the team is probably done in free agency. They now have the room to sign the 2013 draft class, and keep a small amount of money as carryover for 2014 -- where they'll need additional help.
When looking at the roster moves in totality, it's dramatic how much Gettleman has done with so little. Adding two wide receivers (Ginn in name only) he's bolstered the depth at the position, and added talent on special teams. Retaining Dwan Edwards was vital in ensuring the Panthers wouldn't be forced to need draft, and infusing the secondary with a veteran presence is much-needed for a young and inexperienced unit.
Where are they still lacking?
The lack of a nose tackle is still cause for concern. It's definitely exciting to bring back a six-sack defensive tackle like Dwan, but those lofty numbers lose a little luster when you hold them in contrast to Ron Edwards' absence. In three games where Ron was out due to injury, but Dwan could play, he averaged 4 tackles and 0.33 sacks -- but almost all of this production was generated against two of the league's worst teams: Kansas City and Oakland. When both Edwards's were on the field his per-game averages were 3.63 tackles, and 0.45 sacks -- and that was during the difficult part of Carolina's schedule.
The draft will be the team's savior, and thankfully playing the nose in a 4-3 is easier to have early success with a rookie. Whether the Panthers look for someone in the second round to fill this role, or the stars align (pun intended) and Lotulelei is available at 14, the team can get someone to bolster the position without needing to lean on Sione Fua and Frank Kearse to start the season.
This has been a very successful off-season in Carolina because of Gettleman's leadership. The hardest decisions (Retaining Greg Hardy and Ron Rivera) are yet to be made, but the team is slowly digging itself out of the cap nightmare, and they'll have a complete 53 man roster come May, with a little luck on draft day.