With Free Agency looming around the corner the Carolina Panthers are sitting in a pretty good spot in 2017 to be players in the Free Agent market early.
After freeing up CAP space by cutting Paul Soliai to save $2.5 million, and Mike Tolbert to save $1.725 million on the CAP for 2017.
Then tagging Kawann Short for $13.387 million for the 2017 season. While also re-signing Mario Addison to a CAP hit of $4.35 million, Wes Horton to a CAP hit of $1.43 million, and Amini Silatolu to a CAP hit of $695,000 in 2017. (Not including Ben Jacobs)
This figure also doesn’t include possible Restricted Free Agent tenders they have yet to use. Andrew Norwell could get a 2nd round tender which would be around a $2,746,000 million hit on the CAP which is likely to be used on him.
Philly Brown, and Brenton Bersin are all also RFA’s but the chances the tenders are used on them is much lower than Norwell. If a 3rd round tender is placed on any of them it would cost around $1,797,000 million on the CAP for 2017.
The Panthers will sit right around $29,926,149 million entering Free Agency March 9th. This figure is including the $7,777,356 million in CAP space set aside for Draft Picks (via Spotrac).
This figure is not including the $5 to $9 million or so in emergency funds GM Dave Gettleman likes to sit aside which would bring that CAP number down to around $24,926,149 or $20,926,149 million.
So what cards do the Panthers have to play to create more CAP space for 2017 that would allow them more room to work with in Free Agency that they haven’t already done?
First let’s start with cuts. What players could the Panthers look to cut this season either based on production, circumstances, or value?
Left Tackle – Michael Oher | CAP savings: $4,500,000 million (June 1st Cut) | Dead Money: 2017 – $1 million 2018 – $2 million
With Michael Oher it has been a rough 2016-2017. He has been in concussion protocol since back early in the 2016 season. While many in the Panthers organization aren’t giving up hope on Oher’s return.
They’re risking a lot by continuing to keep Oher on the roster. If healthy Oher would be quality depth at the position but the Panthers and Oher would be taking a huge risk should he get another concussion.
The Panthers seem to have a contingency plan in place for Oher and the overall feeling is they would address Left Tackle in Free Agency according to most local reporters. With the leading candidate being Free Agent LT Matt Kalil.
The Panthers could add to their CAP room by making Oher a June 1st designated cut. If cut straight up Oher would cost the Panthers $3 million in dead money while only saving them $2,500,000 million on the CAP in 2017.
If the June 1st designation is used only $1 million of that dead money would hit the Panthers in 2017 and the other $2 million would be pushed into 2018. Saving them $4,500,000 million on the CAP in 2017. Which in my opinion would be the smarter play.
Tight End – Ed Dickson | CAP Savings: $2,050,000 million | Dead Money: $666,668
After coming from Baltimore to Carolina a lot of Panthers fans and probably coaches were hoping to move back to the two Tight End passing offense the Panthers had so much success with early in Cam’s career.
Unfortunately that never came to pass. While Dickson has earned his spot as a blocker on the roster. His pass catching production has been mediocre at best. With a deep Tight End group coming in the Draft in 2017 and it being highly likely the Panthers will take a Tight End with one of their top four picks in the first three rounds.
Dickson seems like the most ideal cut to make to add CAP space in Free Agency and to pave the way for a young Tight End through the Draft.
Especially with back ups with playing time still on the roster like Scott Simonson and some other options available in Free Agency. The Panthers save $2,050,000 million on the CAP by cutting Dickson.
Center/Offensive Guard – Gino Gradkowski | CAP savings: $750,000 | Dead Money: $300,000
With the emergence of Tyler Larsen after Gino’s injury late into the season last year & the return of Amini Silatolu, these two things could make Gino’s spot on the roster expendable.
The Panthers could move on from the veteran Gino Gradkowski and move forward with the younger cheaper back up Center Tyler Larsen. This would save the Panthers $750,000 on the CAP for 2017.
Kicker – Graham Gano | CAP savings: $3,250,000 million | Dead Money: $750,000
After a rough 2016 Graham Gano’s status has been up in the air going into 2017. While a lot of his struggles may have been attributed to an injury. Panthers Head Coach Ron Rivera has stated multiple times since the end of the season that competition at the kicking position would be good.
Leading most to believe there is a good chance the Panthers may have a new kicker in 2017. Will they sign a free agent kicker? Will a kicker come through the later rounds of the draft? I don’t know but either way there is a chance Gano could get cut in 2017. If so Gano can save the Panthers $3,100,000 million on the CAP in 2017.
Quarterback – Derek Anderson | CAP Savings: $1,743,750 million | Dead Money: $500,000
Anderson has been one of the more reliable back up quarterbacks in the NFL but at his age and given the market the Panthers very well could shop for a new back up for cheaper than Anderson if they wanted in Free Agency.
Anderson isn’t likely to be cut by the Panthers since more than likely they don’t want to shake up that Quarterback room this season but if they needed more room then he is one of the guys to look at to free up that room.
Anderson could save the Panthers $1,743,750 million on the CAP in 2017 if cut.
Punter – Andy Lee | CAP savings: $3,433,000 million (if cut) | Dead Money: None (likely Restructure for savings)
Lee’s punting ability during the 2016 season showed how valuable he could be to a team and defense when he is on the field. The veteran Punter suffered an injury ending his 2016 season after the Panthers acquired him from the Browns for a 2018 4th round pick.
It is NOT likely the Panthers will be parting ways with Andy Lee. If healthy Lee can be a huge asset to the Panthers special teams but should his age and injury affect his production moving forward.
It is good to know the Panthers could get out of the deal with no hit on the dead money side of things on the CAP or if they just wanted to bring in a cheaper option.
Lee still has two more years left on his deal with CAP hits of $3,433,000 million in 2017 and $4,134,000 million in 2018. Which is a lot for a Punter but worth it if Lee is not injured and playing like he did in 2016.
I believe it is more likely the Panthers could look to restructure Lee’s deal to take pressure off the CAP hit he has in 2017 should they need to instead of cutting Lee.
Total cuts CAP savings without Anderson & Lee : $10,650,000 million
Total cuts CAP savings with Anderson & Lee: $15,826,750 million
Note: I did not place Jonathan Stewart on this list because of comments from Head Coach Ron Rivera. It seems likely he will not be going anywhere in 2017. If he did there is savings there to be had by cutting him but again it is highly unlikely it will happen.
Now most of the players that have signed recent one to two year deals are also not guaranteed to be on the roster past Training Camp.
For example if the Panthers wanted to free up more room closer to the season cutting a Wes Horton would probably add a chunk back to the CAP because of his guarantees being so low. Wes Horton has $425,000 in guarantees on his new deal.
The smaller the one to two year deal is the easier the deal is to cut before the season to free up that CAP space should they fill that need in the Draft or Free Agency.
Most one to two year deals will be CAP friendly. While players on those deals are either familiar faces that can create competition at a position in camp, help fill out the 90 man, and add security should the Panthers not get what they want out of Free Agency or the Draft at those positions.
I placed Lee at the bottom of the cuts list to lead into my next way the Panthers could free up more CAP room in 2017. Which is Restructures.
While I wouldn’t be able to figure out what the Panthers could do numbers wise with these contracts off hand. I will list the players I believe the Panthers could look to restructure their current deals for 2017.
With the Overthecap and Spotrac “managing the roster” tools I will use them to get a decent idea of what the Panthers could save by doing restructures. So I will include those numbers beside the player. Without the long winded explanation as to why.
Understand these are NOT official restructure numbers but instead these are potential numbers the Panthers could save by doing these restructures.
- Punter – Andy Lee | Due in 2017: $3,433,000 million | Restructured CAP Hit: Spotrac – $2,216,500 million / Overthecap – $2,216,500 million | Possible 2017 CAP savings: Both – $1,216,500 million
- Center – Ryan Kalil | Due in 2017: $8,329,000 million | Restructure CAP Hit: Spotrac – $7,329,000 million / Overthecap – $7,079,000 million | Possible 2017 CAP savings: Spotrac – $1,000,000 million / Overthecap – $1,250,000 million
- Tight End – Greg Olsen | Due in 2017: $10,350,000 million | Restructure CAP Hit: Spotrac – $7,600,000 million / Overthecap – $7,600,000 million | Possible 2017 CAP savings: Both – $2,750,000 million
- Safety – Kurt Coleman | Due in 2017: $3,650,000 | Restructure CAP Hit: Spotrac – $2,983,333 million / Overthecap – $2,716,666 million | Possible 2017 CAP savings: Spotrac – $666,667 / Overthecap – $933,334
Total restructure CAP savings: Spotrac – $5,633,167 million / Overthecap – $6,149,834 million
Note: They could also restructure Luke Kuechly or Cam Newton for major savings based on both Spotrac & Overthecap’s tools but I think it’s not likely they would do either this season unless it was a last resort to free up more room.
So as you can see while the CAP currently looks low after their re-signings so far and CAP they set aside for Draft picks and emergencies. The Panthers and Dave Gettleman still have plenty of avenues they can pursue to create more CAP space for the 2017 season.
They could create anywhere from $30+ to $40+ million in CAP space or even more if they wanted to for 2017. Plus mattering on the structure of a deal that can factor in to other years other than 2017 and lessen a blow on the 2017 CAP which I explained in my last blog piece.
This is also a big reason why the Panthers can be players early in Free Agency this season. This doesn’t even include future numbers past the 2017 season when other contracts come off the books as players enter the end of their deals.
They’re also numbers that may come off that saves for the CAP as Training Camp ends and other smaller cuts begin to add on to the CAP space heading into the season.
That’s my breakdown of the avenues the Panthers have to create more CAP room before Free Agency begins on March 9th or after. I hope it’s informative for some.
If you have any questions or anything to add to this piece shoot me a tweet at @BlackBlueManiac.
Keep Pounding everyone!