Carolina Panthers free agency: Is it worth making a play for Hakeem Nicks?

Elsa

The Charlotte-native was sheepish when asked earlier this year about the possibility of coming to Carolina, but his prohibitive contract demands could relegate the idea to a dream -- unless the Panthers are willing to make a sacrifice.

Hakeem Nicks isn't the first player to sit out OTAs over contract demands, and he certainly wont be the last. Eli Manning is having to work without one of his most reliable targets, while the New York Giants desperately find a way to reconcile their needs at wide receiver between two stars, both needing new contracts. Many have postulated that Dave Gettleman's long-con is to bring Nicks to Carolina as a future replacement for Steve Smith, which would both extend Smith's career as a slot receiver, and give the Panthers offensive continuity in the future. However, if contract figures from one article are accurate -- it may not be possible.

The biggest disconnect between NFL fans and reality in this situation, is which of New York's wide receivers is most highly regarded. On the surface the obvious answer is Victor Cruz, the speedster with over 2,500 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns over the last two years -- but according to Jason Cole of Yahoo, it's Nicks who's the more highly valued.

Cruz's contract will help set the parameters for Nicks, who the Giants consider to be their primary wide receiver - not Cruz, despite what the stats might indicate.

While Cruz is a dynamic player with the speed and quickness to play either in the slot or outside, 6-foot-1 Nicks is considered more of a class matchup problem for defenses. Thus, Nicks will likely command something much closer to the range of $10 million per year, if not more.

Herein lies the problem for the Panthers. Whether they wait until free agency, or try to work a trade for the disgruntled receiver now -- they need to find a way to have that $10-million clear for an extension. It's fun to brush off the idea by saying "He'll give the Panthers a home town discount!", but that rarely happens with top-flight free agents.

Do you want Hakeem Nicks, or Greg Hardy? Because that's the decision the team will need to make.

Do you want Hakeem Nicks, or Greg Hardy? Because that's the decision the team will need to make. It's as difficult to find a 1,000 yard receiver as a 10 sack defensive end, but the Panthers have a far more robust pipeline at pass rusher than they do at receiver. The two basic tenets of the team are to support Cam Newton, and support Luke Kuechly -- so it it worth robbing Peter to pay Paul?

In a word: Yes.

It's easy to credit the Giants' Super Bowl XLVI on their crushing pass rush, but it's equally easy to overlook Cruz and Nicks combining for 2,728 receiving yards that year. Whether it's two edge rushers, or two receivers -- they're both sides of the same coin.

Right now the Panthers have $113 million committed towards the cap for 2014. A likely cut/restructure of Charles Godfrey will bring down that number, and if Jon Beason reworks his deal the figure could come down further. It's not about the dollars in this situation, it's about the managerial sensibilities of Dave Gettleman. He wont spend all the money he's worked to free up on retaining Greg Hardy and signing a receiver like Nicks, so there will need to be a decision.

The Giants hold the cards, and obviously they want to retain Hakeem Nicks if possible, but we now have a better idea of what it would take to bring Nicks back home. It's a steep price, close to the money Percy Harvin and Mike Wallace commanded this year -- but he could be worth it. The prospect of Brandon LaFell and Nicks playing on the edges, with Steve Smith and Greg Olsen in the slots is a salivating prospect -- and a move that could truly take the Panthers from their meandering near-.500 seasons and push them into the playoff picture.

It all comes down to the cost, and that needs to be reconciled by the front office. The Carolina Panthers cannot afford to walk into the future without a #1 receiver for Cam Newton, it's a death sentence for a young quarterback. Drafting one is fraught with its own risks, and getting Nicks would answer a lot of the team's future offensive questions.

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