The Carolina Panthers are in need of a roster overhaul after going 5-11 then losing both Luke Kuechly and Greg Olsen after the season ended. The 2020 free agency period is going to play a big role in this rebuilding process, but with the NFL being a salary cap league the Panthers only have so much money they can spend. Let’s discuss what Marty Hurney’s budget looks like as of today.
This simple answer is an estimated $32 million in cap space. That’s not great for a team that needs to address a lot of roster gaps. As a frame of reference, the $32 million number puts Carolina at No. 21 of 32 NFL teams in terms of available cap room.
Salary cap components
The NFL has notified teams the 2020 salary cap will fall somewhere between $197 million and $201 million. The official number won’t be released until March. The 2019 cap was $188 million so each team will have roughly $10 million more to use this upcoming season. The salary cap website Spotrac is estimating a $199 million salary cap which is the number I will use for now since I’ll reference Spotrac throughout this summary.
Additionally, teams can roll over unused cap space from the current season into the next year. Spotrac has Carolina rolling over just north of $9 million from 2019 into 2020, so when added to the estimated $199 million salary cap the Panthers have roughly $208 million in cap space to work with.
Current salary commitments
Per Spotrac, the Panthers $32 million breaks down like this (rounded for simplicity):
- $199 million - Estimated NFL salary cap
- $9 million - Roll over from 2019
- $208 million - Panthers total salary cap
- -$149 million - Active contracts
- -$27 million - Dead cap
- $32 million - Available cap space
The $27 million in dead money hurts. The bulk of this dead cap is coming from Luke Kuechly ($12 million), Matt Kalil ($10 million), and Greg Olsen ($4 million). None of us can blame Luke for walking away from football when he did but between the void he leaves on the field and the massive dead cap number he leaves behind, he’s put the Panthers in a really tough spot.
Easy moves to go from $32 million to $38 million
The quickest way the Panthers can free up some additional cap space without really impacting the roster is to release two players they claimed off waivers during the 2019 season - running back Mike Davis (frees up a net $3.0 million in cap space) and center Chris Reed ($1.4 million). Kicker Graham Gano ($1.3 million) is also expendable with Joey Slye locked up for 2020.
Those three moves increase the Panthers estimated cap space from about $32 million to near $38 million. It helps, but it doesn’t really move the needle.
The Newton and Poe nuclear option to get to $66 million
If Marty Hurney really wants to free up cap space for 2020 the easy answer is to release Cam Newton ($19.1 million) and Dontari Poe ($9.8 million). Both players will be on the wrong side of 30 next year and will be playing on the final seasons of their contracts.
Making these two moves - in addition to releasing Davis, Reed, and Gano - and Carolina’s available cap space increases from $38 million to around $66 million. The problem, however, is now the Panthers need to find a capable starting quarterback and a starting defensive lineman. I’m not sure how much better they can do for $28.9 million than the combination of Newton and Poe.
Plus, if Cam’s healthy, he’s worth far more than the $19.1 million in cap space the Panthers receive by letting him go. But with the No. 7 overall pick in the draft and a new coaching staff in Charlotte, anything’s possible when it comes to Cam Newton’s future.
The Panthers existing free agents
As of today the Panthers have an estimated $32 million in cap space. They also have a plethora of starters from 2019 who are now free agents and re-signing any of them will eat into that number. This includes guys like James Bradberry, Tre Boston, Gerald McCoy, Mario Addison, Greg Van Roten, and several more. You can see the full list of Panthers free agents here. The point is Carolina is losing a lot of key players and they will have to pay to either re-sign them or replace them. One way or another, they’re going to have to dip into that $32 million to address those positions.
Now, Marty Hurney and Co. can also see if they can restructure some contracts to manufacture additional cap space, but as of today the Panthers have $32 million and a ton of roster holes to fill.
If the Panthers are looking for a 2020 rebuild, they’re going to have to do it on a limited budget.
If you were general manager, what would you do with Cam Newton ($19.1 million) and Dontari Poe ($9.8 million)?
This poll is closed
Keep both of them in 2020 on their current contracts
Release (or trade) both of them for the combined $28.9M in cap space
Release Poe but keep Cam
Release Cam but keep Poe