ESPN's David Newton reported Saturday the Panthers' release of four players this week—defensive tackle Kawann Short, defensive end Stephen Weatherly, safety Tre Boston and punter Michael Palardy—created $19.9 million in cap space, bringing the team's total to $28.5 million.
That's enough for Carolina to account for Watson, who's scheduled to count $15.9 million against the cap in 2021 before his four-year, $156 million contract extension kicks in, and still leave financial wiggle room to sign its draft picks and add free agents.
Watson's cap number will soar to $40.4 million in 2022, however, which means interested teams will have to prepare for some cap juggling in the years ahead.
The Panthers signed Teddy Bridgewater to a three-year, $63 million contract last March, but he underwhelmed during the first season of the deal. He threw just 15 touchdowns with 11 interceptions across 15 appearances, which led to a lackluster 66 grade from Pro Football Focus.
In turn, Carolina's front office is exploring the option of another quarterback change.
It made an offer of Bridgewater, the No. 8 overall selection in the 2021 draft and a fifth-round pick to the Detroit Lions for Matthew Stafford before he was traded to the Los Angeles Rams, per Newton.
The asking price for Watson would probably be even higher than what the Lions received for Stafford—fellow quarterback Jared Goff, two first-round picks and a third-round selection.
Watson, a three-time Pro Bowl selection who led the NFL with 4,823 passing yards in 2020, submitted a trade request, but so far the Texans don't appear eager to seek offers.
"And, you know, we have zero interest in trading the player," Houston general manager Nick Caserio told reporters in late January. "We have a great plan, a great vision for him and for this team and his role on our team. We look forward to the opportunity to spend more time with him here this spring."
Watson, whose extension runs through 2025, has limited leverage and may have to hold out into the regular season if he wants to amplify the pressure on the Texans' front office to find a trade.
The Panthers, like several other quarterback-needy organizations, are preparing in case the star quarterback does become available in the coming months.