Up until this point new Panthers GM Dave Gettleman has been content to bank the cap space he has saved today. In fact it was just reported the Panthers have gone from worst to first in NFC South cap space:
NFC South salary-cap check - NFC South Blog - ESPN
When it comes to the salary cap, Gettleman has pulled off a minor miracle. The Panthers were more than $16 million over the salary cap when Gettleman took the job in January. As of Monday morning, the Panthers are $13.8 million under the 2013 salary cap. That’s been accomplished by a series of releases and contract restructures. But don’t look for Gettleman to go on any sudden spending sprees.
As I said, the Panthers have more space than the Saints ($11.7M), the Falcons ($7.5M) and Bucs ($5.2M). So is finally time to spend some of the stockpile? I can understand why G-man wants to save for the next offseason as the Panthers will have a number of key players to re-sign. He needs to be looking long-term versus short term is the thinking.
I would offer that Cam Newton's health is part of both the short term and the long term. Newton playing behind a feeble offensive line should be making him feel queezy enough to loosen the purse strings. So what free agents are out there that the Panthers might consider:
But Most Expensive Option: RT Winston Justice UFA 6'-6" 317lbs; 7 Seasons, last with Indianapolis
If you are of the mind if you have to make a move you might as well upgrade the roster while you are at then Justice is your guy. It is a buyer beware situation though given the number of teams deciding to pass on the talented lineman. Adding Justice would push Byron Bell to the bench with Garry Williams or (gulp), Patrick Brown being the back-up at LT. Though in this scenario the Panthers bolster their starting offensive line it doesn't solve the back-up LT situation.
Best Coming Off Injury Option: Travelle Wharton 6'-4" 312 lbs, 9 Seasons, most recent with Cincinnati
Adding Wharton might move Garry Williams to a back-up tackle position if Wharton is healthy and willing to try RG. This would again be an option that would upgrade the starting unit. If he is not ready for that he has experience willing in at both tackle and guard.
Most Familiar Option Not Named Wharton: Frank Omiyale 6'-4" 315lbs 8 Seasons, most recent Seattle
It was a successful 2008 fill in for injured LT Jordan Gross against the pass rush deficient Chiefs that propelled Omiyale to a free agent contract offer by the Bears. Omiyale never lived up to that contract and parted ways with the Bears after three seasons. Last year he was on the Seahawks roster playing in all 16 games and getting one start but was not re-signed. Omiyale might not be the cheapest option at this point but he could back-up both tackle spots making a little more attractive compared to another player deemed a RT only.
Gettleman hasn't been shy about bringing in former Giants so maybe that will extend to the OL and Locklear. Like most on this list the player's health must not be in question to be a viable option and that extends to Locklear. Otherwise Locklear fits the low cost options Gettleman has been targeting.
Second Best Connection Option: Jared Gaither 6'-9" 335 lbs, 6 Seasons, the last in San Diego
Gaither was a huge bust for the Chargers and his teammates openly questioned his commitment to football. All agree he is very talented but he would first need to convince the Panthers he is ready to work for a roster spot and that nothing would be given to him. Me personally, he seems too much of a risk.
Jammal Brown 6'-6", 317 lbs, 8 Seasons, the last in Washington
Another injury risk, Brown is coming off a lingering hip injury. Brown is a former Pro Bowler who if healthy could be a nice addition though he probably won't come cheap.
Virtual Unknown Option: Jason Haslem 6'-5" 304 lbs, 3 Seasons, most recent in New England
If the Panthers do anything my money is on bringing in some unknown player like Haslem. Haslem is a former UDFA who's rookie season ended with a hand injury.
Overall you can see that there are no obvious choices as each player brings some type of risk or liability. It is a dangerous endeavor Gettleman faces in trying to shore up the Panthers offensive line depth.