Cam Newton and the Panthers finally broke through in 2013, reaching the playoffs in his 3rd season.
Our first two articles touched on two teams deep in the salary cap hole, New Orleans and Detroit. We are now focusing to a team starting the year under the cap, the Carolina Panthers. Carolina is rolling over more than $10 million in cap space from 2013, giving them a total salary cap of $138,573,268 for 2014. With $123,431,496 in salaries committed towards the cap, that leaves the Panthers with $15,141,772 in free space to work.
With this unique situation, and after examining the Panthers current salaries, I do not believe they will be in the situation to release players to free up space. However, the Panthers do have work to do this off season if they want to be able to resign some of their own big name players that are set to become free agents this year.
The Panthers start the 2014 off season with only 2 players that have cap hits over $10 million, Charles Johnson ($16,420,000) and Ryan Kalil ($10,400,000). Johnson is signed through 2016 and Kalil through 2017, meaning restructures of these two contracts is the smartest way for the Panthers to free up cap space.
Restructuring Johnson’s contract has the potential to free up an additional $5,263,333 in cap space, dropping his salary cap figure to $11,156,667. Ryan Kalil’s potential restructure has the ability to drop his salary cap figure to $7,478,750, freeing up $2,921,250 in cap space. This extra $12,742,083 in cap space can be well used by the Panthers, as it will increase their free space to $23,326,355.
Carolina’s Superman will be unlikely to receive a new contract this off season.
There is no doubt that the Carolina Panthers view Cam Newton as their franchise QB, and he will receive a contract that will pay him as such. However, Cam will not be receiving a contract extension this season, as the Panthers can still keep him under contract through the 2015 season for relatively cheap. This is because of a fifth year option that can be applied to all first round rookies under the new CBA.
In the case of a player like Cam Newton, his draft position means that he would be paid the average salary of the top 10 paid QBs from the 2013 season during the 2015 season. This number has not been officially released, but rough projections put that number at roughly $15 million.
Players have no way of avoiding this option, as skipping training camp can result in large fines and missing a preseason game could see fines of up to $30,000. Teams have from the start of the league year until May 3rd to decide if they will use this option, and there is no reason to believe Cam Newton will avoid his fifth year option.
Unrestricted Free Agents
Greg Hardy’s play will make him one of the highest played DE in the NFL next season.
The Panthers currently have 20 players set to become unrestricted free agents, and the biggest name on the list is DE Greg Hardy. Hardy is coming off seasons that included 11 and 15 sacks and is viewed by many as one of the top free agents with the potential to hit the market this off season.
While the Panthers should have the cap space to franchise Hardy if they need to, it would not be the best option for the team. Instead, they should try to work out a new deal, despite the fact that it is likely to pay him similar to teammate Charles Johnson, near $13 million per season.
If the Panthers decide to let Hardy walk, the team will likely look to replace him with one of their draft picks this season and spread their money to other targets. Besides Hardy, the Panthers other 19 unrestricted free agents are Jordan Gross (who might retire), Domenik Hixon, Captain Munnerlyn, Ted Ginn Jr., Travelle Wharton, Jimmy Clausen, Mike Mitchell, Graham Gano, Bruce Campbell, Ben Hartsock, Jordan Senn, Quintin Mikell, Colin Cole, Derek Anderson, Drayton Florence, Geoff Hangartner, Jason Williams, Dan Connor, and Eric Norwood.