According to Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer, wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery and safety Roman Harper “had their contracts automatically void Thursday in contractual moves that officially began the offseason following the most successful season in franchise history.”
Person noted the two players “will become unrestricted free agents in March, although it's unclear whether they will continue playing.”
Person pointed out Cotchery recently declared “he would play if he’s back with the Panthers,” while Harper “has not discussed his future publicly.”
Even though the Panthers are moving on from the two veterans, Person illustrated why they will still be on the books for the reigning NFC champions in 2016:
Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman added three voidable years on the contracts for Harper and Cotchery when he signed them two years ago to spread out their bonus money and lessen the salary cap hit.
As a result, the Panthers will carry a combined $2.25 million in dead money for Harper and Cotchery on the 2016 books.
Cotchery may not be the most popular player among Panthers fans, considering he dropped three passes in the Super Bowl, but he didn’t register a single drop throughout the regular season. He took a backseat to Greg Olsen and Ted Ginn Jr. in the passing attack but still finished third on the Panthers with 485 receiving yards on the year.
What’s more, one of those Super Bowl drops was questionable and required an official review during the game.
Cotchery also hauled in three touchdown passes in 2015 and is only two years removed from a 10-touchdown campaign in 2013 with the Pittsburgh Steelers. However, he has been in the league since the New York Jets drafted him in 2004 and has 175 regular-season games under his belt.
He reflected on his past two seasons with the Panthers and sounded like someone who enjoyed what may be the twilight of his career, per Bill Voth of Black and Blue Review.
"I do know this—coming back here the past two years have just been tremendously wonderful for me," he said. "Bringing my wife back down to her home state and just playing ball here again, being before these fans, it's been wonderful."
Cotchery was a solid veteran presence for the Panthers, but their passing attack will be fine in 2016 without him because Kelvin Benjamin (ACL) should return. Benjamin racked up 1,008 receiving yards in his rookie season in 2014 and will draw extra attention from opposing defenses. That should free up speedsters Ginn and Corey Brown.
As for Harper, the 10-year veteran did not register an interception for the first time since 2011. The New Orleans Saints drafted him in the second round in 2006, and he played there for eight seasons before joining the Panthers.
Harper did pick off four passes for Carolina in 2014 and is a two-time Pro Bowler (2009 and 2010). However, Around the NFL noted Peyton Manning was already picking on the 33-year-old safety on the first play of the Super Bowl.
Manning may have picked on Harper in this season’s Super Bowl, but Harper’s Saints beat Manning’s Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV.
If Harper does retire, he will still have that Lombardi Trophy to go along with his two Pro Bowls and 11 career interceptions.