The NFL set its salary cap at $224.8 million this week, and the Panthers are one of 14 teams currently over the cap.

About $9.5 million above the cap, the Panthers aren’t as bad as two of their NFC South rivals. The Saints seem to be in salary cap hell every year, according to Spotrac data, but the league best still needs to make $57.4 million in cap space before the new league year begins on March 15.

Tampa Bay, which has tried to extend its championship period with Tom Brady for as long as possible, is in the NFL’s second-worst cap situation, with a $55.7 million deficit, according to Spotrac. The Falcons are at the other end of the spectrum with $56.4 million in cap space, second only to the Bears’ $98.7 million figure.

The Panthers have spent a lot of money to solidify their roster over the past few offseasons, signing Taylor Morton, DJ Moore, Donte Jackson extensions, Austin Corbett, Johnny Hecker and more to free agency deals. spent.

Eighteen of the Panthers’ 22 starters last season are under contract in 2023. Quarterback Sam Darnold, running back Donta Foreman, center Bradley Boseman and defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis are the only starters slated to become free agents.



It’s Frank Reich Day, but David Tepper testifies about the Panthers’ hiring practices

athletic Ahead of general manager Scott Fitter and Frank Reich’s first free agency in Charlotte, we look at some possible moves the Panthers can make to create cap room. (All Caps by Spotrac) numeric value.)

potential cap casualties

LB Shaq Thompson

Year: 28

Maximum Savings: $13.2 million

Dead money: $11.3 million

Thompson continued to prove effective in his 27-year-old season, posting a career-high 135 tackles and ranking among the top 15 NFL defenders. Thompson also has endurance, and despite having knee surgery in the offseason, it was only the second time in his career that he played a full season. The Panthers have rebuilt Thompson’s contract twice since Marty Harney signed his extension in 2019. By kicking the can, Thompson now has a cap number of $24.46 million in the final year of his contract. That’s right behind Moore ($25 million) and Morton ($24.54 million), whose contracts could be reworked with a simple restructuring for cap purposes. Aside from the promotion of Frankie Luv, the Panthers’ linebacker army is lean and in need of reinforcement. But considering this move alone would put the Panthers below the cap, Thompson seems like a logical cut.

G/C Pat Elfline

Year: 28

Maximum Savings: $4.3 million

Dead money: $2.8 million

Elflein and Cam Erving were low-tier offensive line additions for 2021, but it didn’t work out. Elflein started his first six games last season at center before undergoing season-ending hip surgery. Boseman replaced him and was a big part of the Panthers’ success on the ground despite Christian McCaffrey being traded to San Francisco. Boseman is arguably the Panthers’ own free agency priority, saying he wants to stay in Charlotte.

LB Damien Wilson

Year: 29

Maximum Savings: $3.6 million

Dead money: $1.1 million

Wilson, who turns 30 in May, signed a two-year, $6.9 million contract last offseason in hopes of bolstering the Panthers’ defense. The former fourth-round draft pick started five of his first seven games and posted a season-high nine tackles in the Week 5 loss to San Francisco. But after Steve Wilkes took over, Wilson was an afterthought, playing a total of four defensive snaps in the final eight games. , expect Brandon Smith to be able to turn his traits into production in his second year. It makes more sense to bring in players who fit our system.

K Zane Gonzalez

Year: 27

Maximum Savings: $1.5 million

Dead money: $625,000

Gonzalez ends 2021 on the injured reserve list and starts 2022 on the IR after injuring his quads during a warmup on Buffalo’s slick fields, hitting the net during the final preseason game against Buffalo. In the meantime, the Panthers signed Gonzalez to a two-year, $4.5 million contract after seeing him score 17 straight field goals before being injured against the Bills. However, while Gonzalez rehabilitated following groin surgery, Eddie Pinheiro proved to be a capable understudy. Scored the final 19 field goals in a row, including the Week 18 game-winner, and finished second in the league in field goal percentage among players (94.3). kicker. Pineiro is eligible for free agency. However, given Reich’s relationship with special teams coordinator Chris Taybor, the Panthers expect to stick with Pineiro in 2023.

Ian Thomas caught 21 passes for 197 yards last season. (Joe Nicholson/USA Today)

Possibility of surprise cut

TE Ian Thomas

Year: twenty five

Maximum Savings: $3.1 million (designated after June 1)

Dead money: $3.6 million in 2023. $1.7 million in 2024

Reich’s offense features a tight end that stands out in the passing game, and Reich says he likes the matchups he can create in that position. Thomas is a physical and reliable blocker, but he hasn’t developed as a pass catcher. Thomas just signed a three-year, $16.95 million contract last offseason, and if they keep him for another year, the dead money will be less. The Panthers may have cut ties with Thomas in post-June 1 nominations to spread the dead money. Reich told Charlotte sports talk station WFNZ on Wednesday that he had already heard from Eric Ebron. The former UNC tight end went to the Pro Bowl under Reich with the Colts in 2018, but was out of the league last season after an ankle injury prematurely ended his 2021 season at Pittsburgh.

Expansion candidate

DE Brian Burns

Year: twenty four

Cap number: $16 million

The Panthers want to sign Barnes after Edge Rusher earns his second straight Pro Bowl spot. Barnes gained weight last offseason, which improved his ability as a run defender and allowed him to add the occasional bull rush to his arsenal of pass rushes. Barnes is still young (he will turn 25 in April) and is coming to an end of a season where he recorded his career-high 12 1/2 sacks. He will seek extensions to join the ranks of the highest-paid edge rushers in the game. Spotrac projects his four-year deal with Burns, averaging his $18.3 million per year. If the Panthers and Barnes can’t come to an agreement, they could try to have him play his option year for his $16 million and extend him midseason or postseason. But then they risk letting Barnes test for free agency. Fitter locked Moore in early last offseason, and hopes he can do the same with Barnes.

(Top photo by Shaq Thompson: Grant Halverson / Getty Images)


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