So you think the Panthers are flush with cap space huh? First place team, $30M in cap space. MVP QB and All-World LB both locked down for the long term? Life is good, no? Well, tamper your enthusiasm just a bit and see what it is going to take to keep this team together and improving for the long-haul. They could actually be up against the cap going into next year.
Players To Sign
The Panthers had a league-leading number of 10 Pro-Bowlers in 2015. An amazing number to be sure. Those players were: Cam Newton, Jonathan Stewart, Greg Olsen, Mike Tolbert, Ryan Kalil, Trai Turner, Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Josh Norman and Kawann Short. At first glance there is a lot to like, in that of that group, KK Short is next in line for a big payday. Also, Stewart is not expected back after this season, and Ryan Kalil’s contract starts to decrease after this season.
So why have I set this article up as a concern? I submit that beyond KK, the Panther must re-sign Trai Turner, Andrew Norwell, Kony Ealy and Star Lotulelei. Andrew Norwell will be a RFA after this year, and the other three are signed through the 2017 season, but their contracts loom large for the Panthers. And don't forget about Kelvin Benjamin (who I'm not factoring in to this argument).
Should the Panthers be able to sign all of those players within the next twelve months (as I believe is the plan), the Panthers will be out of cap space going into next season without adding additional Free Agent talent. The group alone could eat up an estimated $56.1M in cap space and potentially more against a projected cap space number in 2017 of $53.8M.
Show Me The Money
I get that estimation from taking the average of the top five paid players at their positions and Defensive Ends come in at $13.8M, Defensive Tackles come in at $11.95M and Guards come in at $9.2M. Sound high for a Guard? JR Sweezy (former NC State Defensive Tackle) just signed with the Bucs for $9.5M in cap space for 2016. I would argue, and I’m sure their agents will, that both Turner and Norwell are better players than Sweezy.
It is not time to panic, as the Panthers are in far better shape that the other teams in our Division and perhaps in the NFL (in terms of current talent and available cap space combined). However, this little exercise will show that the Panthers probably won’t re-sign everyone in the next twelve months and may not re-sign everyone period. And you can certainly see why chess-player (in a checker-players’ world) David Gettleman has made the moves that he has, especially with Josh Norman. There is room for great optimism in Carolina, but don’t look for them to go sign any big names that aren’t currently on the team. Anymore signings this year will likely be one-year deals. We aren’t shopping at the Dollar Store any longer, but we are having to choose who to pay and that is no easy task, just ask New Orleans.