Even before the regular season finished, Carolina Panthers fans were looking forward to the impending offseason. Although the landscape of the league has shifted since then, the perspective on certain potential moves remains the same.
For example, the Panthers have serious needs at free safety, defensive tackle and wide receiver, all of which still need to be addressed.
Unlike those two teams, though, the Panthers have a horrible cap situation to contend with. A couple of weeks before free agency is set to begin, the Panthers are still $10 million over the cap.
In order to get under the cap line, rookie GM David Gettleman will have to either restructure or release at least a couple of veterans. However, releasing experienced veterans is typically contradictory to promoting a positive and successful locker room.
The team the Panthers run out onto the field next season should be a playoff contender, so it's up to Gettleman to supplement the current talent while cleaning up the team's financial situation. Also, Ron Rivera is coaching for his job next season and will likely be assertive in all personnel decisions.
Other than that, though, Gettleman really should have a quiet first season.
The Carolina Panthers have a loaded backfield, as they currently employ DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert. Of course, the Panthers are paying a healthy sum for their trio of backs.
While Tolbert is more of a fullback/goal-line type player, Williams and Stewart are every-down backs. The problem is that the latter are owed a combined $11.5 million next season. While that number isn't ridiculous, the Panthers' cap situation may not warrant that type of investment at running back.
Earlier in the offseason, Stewart restructured his contract, which means he won't be going anywhere. That means Williams is the running back David Gettleman is looking at, as he will count for $8.2 million against next season's salary cap.
According to Joseph Person of CharlotteObserver.com, the Panthers plan on keeping Williams. If Gettleman decides to keep Williams, he should be adamant about restructuring Williams' contract.
In all honesty, cutting Williams and drafting a running back in the middle rounds makes the most sense. While pundits would argue that Stewart is too injury prone to justify releasing Williams, their current cap situation may require it to be done.
A fresh back out of college could help the rushing game take the next stop forward, although the departure of Rob Chudzinski should aid in that effort as well.
The Carolina Panthers have a need at wide receiver and the 14th pick in April's NFL draft. That combination may lead GM David Gettleman to select wideout Cordarrelle Patterson out of Tennessee, which would be a great pick.
At 6'2" and 216 pounds, Patterson has game-changing speed and is always a threat to get open over the top. He is an excellent leaper, as evidenced by his 37" vertical jump, which also happens to be the best the combine had to offer.
At this point in the process, Patterson is the top wideout in this year's class, an assertion he backed up at the combine. The Tennessee Volunteer product ran a 4.42 40-yard dash at the combine
Adding Patterson would give Cam Newton a dynamic option to grow with, which isn't something they currently have on the roster.
If Patterson is off the board, the Panthers must avoid reaching on a player like Keenan Allen. Rather than reaching on Allen, Gettleman could target Terrance Williams out of Baylor or Stedman Bailey out of West Virginia.
While kickers don't warrant high draft selections or big money on the open market, their accuracy is oftentimes the difference between elation and heartache.
For example, take a look at Billy Cundiff's miss as a member of the Baltimore Ravens during the 2011 AFC Championship Game. Had Cundiff not pushed that kick left, the Ravens would have made the Super Bowl and squared off against the New York Giants.
If Cundiff converts on a 32-yard field goal, we might be having a conversation about how the Ravens are back-to-back Super Bowl champions. That's the difference a kicker can make.
Graham Gano played in six games as a member of the Carolina Panthers in 2012, as the team brought the Florida State product in after releasing Justin Medlock.
Over that span, Gano converted on nine of 11 attempts, which is good for a conversion rate of 81.8 percent.
If David Gettleman wants to stick with Gano, that's fine, but he must spend time evaluating the position. If I were in Gettleman's position, the move would be to scout collegiate kickers and to sign my favorite as an un-drafted free agent.
In that scenario, there would be competition in training camp, which should only make both kickers better.
Once upon a time, Jordan Gross was deserving of the $8.6 million base salary he is set to make next season. That being said, Gross will be 33 years old when the season starts and isn't worth the $11.7 million cap hit.
The Panthers' cap situation is too dire not to approach Gross in regard to restructuring his contract.
Father Time has begun to catch up with Gross, as he isn't as quick on his feet as he used to be. While his skills have deteriorated a bit, Gross is still a key member of the Carolina Panthers offensive line and they cannot afford to release him.
With Cam Newton behind center, the Panthers need a quality left tackle in order to protect their franchise quarterback. Even though Gross has regressed, he's still the best option to defend Newton's blindside in 2013.
Ryan Kalil and Jonathan Stewart have already restructured their contracts this offseason, and Jon Beason and Gross have the potential to be added to that list.
Gross has proven to be willing to rework his contract in the past, as he restructured his deal in 2011.
The Carolina Panthers don't have many unrestricted free agents to worry about, as Dwan Edwards is the most important player from last year's team without a contract in place for 2013.
Edwards was solid along the interior of the defensive line last season, as he compiled six sacks and 52 tackles. With Greg Hardy and Charles Edwards combining to accumulate 23.5 sacks last season, the disruption that Edwards provided inside clearly made a difference for the defensive ends.
Even if Edwards returns, the Panthers still have to address the defensive tackle position prior to the start of next season. However, if they retain Edwards, then defensive tackle may not be the first priority entering free agency and the draft.
The Panthers have already reached out to Edwards, as evidenced by the following tweet.
Gettleman said Panthers have reached out to DTDwan Edwards, who's an unrestricted free agent.— Joe Person (@josephperson) February 21, 2013
The market for Edwards should be small, so David Gettleman will have no excuses if he fails to retain the team's only decent interior defensive lineman.