The Carolina Panthers have 31 days to make some serious decisions regarding free agency.
On March 12 the Panthers have to be below the cap, which the NFL set at $121.1 million for 2013. Educated estimates have Carolina at about $15 million over the cap right now. Some maneuvering is going to have to be done.
There are 14 players on the roster that are headed to free agency, but only three (Sherrod Martin, Captain Munnerlyn and Dwan Edwards) who were starters in 2012.
To get below the cap figure and have a little wiggle room to speak with free agents not currently on the Carolina roster, the Panthers are going to have to make some difficult changes. New general manager Dave Gettleman is likely going to have to cut some of the fattier contracts and talk about restructuring a few deals.
The Charlotte Observer reported that cornerback Chris Gamble will likely be the first cap casualty for the Panthers. Gamble is the Panthers’ sole reliable corner, but a shoulder injury landed him on injured reserve, and a $7.95 million cap figure in 2013 may land him on the street.
Linebacker Jon Beason could be another cap casualty, but will more likely be asked to restructure his deal. When healthy, Beason is one of the top middle linebackers in the game. And imagining Beason with Luke Kuechly in the middle of a defense that could potentially run more 3-4 schemes in 2013 has some drooling. But Beason is set to make $5.25 million in 2013 and hasn’t had a completely healthy season since 2010.
The former regime head, Marty Hurney, spent a lot of money building the three-headed running back monster of DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert, and had little desire to break it up for financial reasons. Gettleman may have a different take. The trio is set to make just $6.75 million in 2013, but Williams is slated to get $4.75 million on that pot. Gettleman could part ways with Williams, who definitely didn’t earn his keep in 2012.
Jordan Gross is a fantastic locker room guy for the Panthers and played 16 games for Carolina last season. But he gave up seven sacks and 23 quarterback hurries and ranked No. 20 on the Pro Football Focus list of offensive tackles in the NFL. Gross is slated to make $8.7 million in 2013, and while his numbers don’t equate to that kind of paycheck, he’s the kind of talent the Panthers need to ask to restructure, not send packing.
Defensive tackle Ron Edwards played in just 11 games and notched just 14 tackles and a sack last year. By cutting him the Panthers could recoup his $2.15 million salary and spend that money wisely.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.