Breaking Down the Carolina Panthers' Salary-Cap Situation Entering Free Agency

Jonathan Stout@@jastout89Contributor IIMarch 5, 2014

Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy (76) runs on the the field during player introductions before the start of an NFL football game  in Charlotte, NC, Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013. (AP Photo / Mike McCarn)
MIKE MCCARN/Associated Press

The Carolina Panthers conquered their most pressing issue of the 2014 offseason—resolving the Greg Hardy situation. 

Hardy signed his franchise tender, guaranteeing him $13.1 million this season, according to Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer.

Person reported via Twitter that the team will continue to pursue a long-term deal for Hardy.


The 25-year-old defensive end tied a franchise record last season with 15 sacks, formerly held by linebacker Kevin Greene

Carolina also re-signed kicker Graham Gano to a four-year, $12 million deal on Friday. Gano was efficient for the Panthers last season, hitting 24 of 27 attempts; he also led the NFL with six field goals from 50 yards or more.

According to Person, the Panthers now sit $7 million under the cap, set at $133 million, after the Hardy and Gano signings.

"With Hardy signing the tender and the Panthers signing kicker Graham Gano to a four-year, $12 million deal last week, the Panthers now are about $7 million below the $133 million salary cap," he said.

In addition to Gano and Hardy re-signing, center Ryan Kalil, running back Jonathan Stewart and linebacker Thomas Davis all agreed to restructure their contracts, which saved the team roughly $6.3 million, according to ESPN’s David Newton.

Recent restructures to the deals of center Ryan Kalil, running back Jonathan Stewart and linebacker Thomas Davis helped significantly. Kalil's cap number dropped from $10.4 million to $7,284,000. Stewart's dropped from $5,496,250 to $4,585,000. Davis' dropped from $5,816,666 to $3,566,666. 


Free agents remained unsigned 

The Panthers have 21 unrestricted free agents this offseason, including eight starters.

Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn remains unsigned by the Panthers and is therefore expected to test the open waters come March 11, along with safeties Mike Mitchell and Quintin Mikell, as well as cornerback Drayton Florence.

Munnerlyn had the best season of his young five-year career, recording a combined 74 tackles and 3.5 sacks—both career highs. He also tacked on two interceptions—both returned for touchdowns—and a forced fumble.

Wide receiver Brandon LaFell, selected No. 78 overall in the 2010 NFL draft by the Panthers, was looked upon to fill the team’s No. 2 receiver slot opposite of Steve Smith, but his inconsistency has the four-year wideout likely headed elsewhere in 2014.

Ted Ginn Jr. along with Mitchell are the two players who are most likely next to be re-signed, according to Newton: “Management is talking with representatives for free safety Mike Mitchell and wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr., so that appears to be the direction the team is heading. Both make sense.” 

Ginn, selected ninth overall by the Miami Dolphins in the 2007 NFL draft, never lived up to the hype coming out of Ohio State and has been used primarily has a special teams weapon.

However, last season he excelled in offensive coordinator Mike Shula’s scheme. Ginn posted career highs with five touchdowns and 15.4 yards per catch.

With Ginn’s game-changing speed, whether it's on end-around rushing plays, in the return game or running a 9-route, he is an invaluable asset for the Panthers.


Possible Free-Agent Signings

With the restructured contracts and Hardy only tied up for one year, the Panthers will most likely remain rather quiet once free agency opens.

The Panthers will sign players to fill holes, but not the likes of headline wideout Hakeem Nicks or safety Jairus Byrd.

Two interesting players that could be cap-friendly and a good fit for the Panthers are wide receiver James Jones and cornerback Tarell Brown.

Jones is coming off of his eighth season in the NFL, all with the Green Bay Packers. Last season, he recorded 817 yards on 59 catches and hauled in three touchdowns.

In 2012, Jones recorded his best season, snagging 14 touchdowns and tallying 784 yards.

The eight-year pro was a deep threat in Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers, averaging no fewer than 12.3 yards a catch in his career, and could prove to be a great second or third option for Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.

Jones earned $2.95 million last season with the Packers.

Brown had somewhat of an off-season, only recording 32 tackles and 10 pass deflections in 13 games after recording a combined 97 tackles, 29 pass defections and six interceptions in 32 starts from 2011 to 2012.

The 29-year-old corner did not record his best statistical season last year, but a change of scenery may be best for Brown.

Last season he earned $925,000 with the San Francisco 49ers, which could be attractive for a team looking to rebuild its secondary on a budget.