Latest Salary Cap Breakdown for Carolina Panthers
With free agency less than a month away, organizations around the league are attempting to balance their budgets in order to improve.
The Panthers have one of the worst cap situations in the league, as they are sitting at a salary number of $135 million. New GM Dave Gettleman is not walking into a great situation, as past GM Marty Hurney signed quite a few bad contracts during his tenure.
It's up to Gettleman to make the most of the current situation.
Despite missing the playoffs last season, the Panthers have a bright future. Entering next season, the goal is to compete for the NFC South and make the playoffs for the first time since the Jake Delhomme era.
Let's take a look at what cap moves the Panthers need to make from a unit-to-unit perspective.
Franchise quarterback Cam Newton is set to make $6 million next season, which is low for a player of his caliber. However, since Newton is still playing out his rookie contract, the Panthers have the luxury of saving some money at the most important position.
Last season's backup, Derek Anderson, is set to be an unrestricted free agent and will almost definitely move on. He is one of the league's premier backup quarterbacks, which is a luxury the Panthers simply cannot afford.
Jimmy Clausen is still on the roster, but it's hard to feel comfortable about him coming into the game if something happened to Newton.
As long as Newton stays healthy, there's nothing to worry about here. However, the Panthers will likely not have an option like Anderson sitting on the bench when next season rolls around.
The Panthers have far too much money tied up at running back long-term, with DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert all getting paid big money. However, only Williams will make significant money this season, as he is scheduled to make $8.5 million.
As far as the Panthers' other backs, Stewart will receive $3 million, while Tolbert is set to earn $2 million in the season to come.
If the Panthers' front office wants to do the right thing, it has no choice but to cut Williams in order to get out from his inflated contract. Sure, Williams had a couple great games last season, but he isn't worth the $17.2 million over the next three seasons.
The Panthers would take a $4.8 million cap hit over the next two seasons, but that's the price that needs to be paid now.
Greg Olsen played very well last season, hauling in 69 catches for 843 yards and five touchdowns.
Next season, he will earn $5.7 million, which is a fair number for one of Cam Newton's favorite targets.
After Olsen, the Panthers will need to reload.
Gary Barnidge and Ben Hartsock, who were both on the team last season, are unrestricted free agents. Neither player is a difference maker, and the Panthers would be better off finding a couple of young players to replace them.
The Carolina Panthers need another playmaker at wide receiver, as Steve Smith will be entering his 13th season when training camp opens.
Next season, he's set to make $5.75 million, although his contract will kick up starting in 2014. The increase in salary as Smith ages is a contradiction, which is something that will have to be dealt with in the future.
Brandon LaFell had his moments last season, but he failed to make a consistent impact. Luckily, he's only scheduled to make $1.5 million next season, which is good value for a No. 2 wideout.
After Smith and LaFell, the Panthers don't have another reliable option.
Armanti Edwards, David Gettis, Kealoha Pilares and Joe Adams are scheduled to earn $2.6 million between them. That group is unlikely to make a difference on offense, although Pilares and Adams were drafted primarily as special teamers.
The Panthers need another wideout, so they'll have to cut the budget somewhere else to add one.
Jordan Gross is a very capable left tackle, but he may not be worth the $11.7 million he will make next season. The Panthers should look to restructure his deal like they did with Ryan Kalil.
Kalil agreed to restructure his contract, and his cap figure is now $6.4 million, as opposed the $8.6 he was originally slated to earn.
At guard, the Panthers have a bevy of players, but not one who stands out.
Geoff Hangartner is scheduled to make $1.57 million next season, which is a fair number for a decent guard. Rookie Amini Silatolu isn't going anywhere, although he was disappointing as a rookie.
Meanwhile, veteran tackle Garry Williams is set to make $1.25 million next season—that is, if he doesn't get cut in order to bring in a younger player with more potential.
The Panthers' offensive line could use improvement, but the key is to lower the cap hit from the unit.
Charles Johnson is the highest-paid Carolina Panther, as his cap hit will be $13 million next season. While that's a lot of money, he is the team's best pass-rusher, and the defense would be worse without him.
Greg Hardy provides great value, as he is set to make just $1.37 million in the upcoming season. Considering that he compiled 11 sacks last season, the Panthers are getting tremendous value for just over $1 million.
On the interior of the defensive line, the Panthers must cut Ron Edwards, who is due $3.3 million next season. And after cutting ties with Edwards, the Panthers will have Colin Cole, Sione Fua, Dwan Edwards and Frank Kearse.
Carolina is set at defensive end but needs to acquire a solid defensive tackle. The front office's ability to acquire a run-stuffing defensive tackle may decide how good the team will be next season.
Luke Kuechly exceeded expectations in his rookie season and is the best linebacker on the Panthers' roster—a distinction that used to belong to Jon Beason.
After missing the majority of the 2012 season due to injury, Beason is set to make $9.5 million next season. This is another deal that needs to be restructured, as the Panthers cannot afford to take such a cap hit for a player who has struggled with injuries.
James Anderson is due $4.4 million next season, although he is a prime candidate to be released in order to clear cap room.
Meanwhile, Thomas Davis turned in a wonderful comeback season in 2012 and is set to make $3 million, which is fair if he can play at last season's level.
The Panthers' linebacker corp will be fine moving forward, as the team is relatively deep here.
The Panthers' secondary will take a shot if/when the team releases Chris Gamble. While the move makes no sense from a personnel perspective, Carolina cannot afford to take the $10.9 million cap hit.
Captain Munnerlyn is an unrestricted free agent, and only time will tell if he ends up re-signing with the team. Either way, it's nothing to lose sleep over.
Safeties Charles Godfrey and Haruki Nakamura are set to earn $3.7 million and $1.6 million, respectively. That doesn't mean both will be back, though, as the Panthers should cut Nakamura, who was terrible last season.
Josh Norman turned in a solid rookie season and is set to make just $480,000, which is a great deal.
The Panthers need to address this position through either free agency or the draft, as they don't have enough talent to slow down the pass-heavy attacks in the NFC South.