Charles Godfrey is a Panthers Salary Cap Killer

The only thing Panthers’ GM Dave Gettleman repeated more than “cap challenged” in the post season presser was that he “doesn’t talk contracts.” I wonder why?  Perhaps it’s the indigestion anyone gets when looking at Carolina’s roster status. The Panthers have 21 unrestricted free agents, including Greg Hardy, Mike Mitchell, Ted Ginn, Jr., Graham Gano, and Jordan Gross. Add personnel needs at receiver, in the secondary, and signals that he hopes to lock up Cam Newton up for the long term, and Gettleman has a tough task ahead
Gettleman will certainly need to work some magic with a modest $16m in cap money. Saddled by big money, long-term deals for a war-weary group of veterans, Gettleman can’t cut and cash his way to more cap space in 2014.  The Panthers are on the hook for big bucks to several who offer little trade value.  So if Gettleman did miraculously talk contracts, I’m sure he would scream  “deals like Charles Godfrey’s are killing the Panthers’ cap!”

Godfrey's contract status neatly sums up the challenges facing Carolina in 2014. Godfrey signed a nice 5 yr/$27m contract with $12.4m guaranteed in 2011.  His salary, like most, balloons towards the backend, reaching 5 million in base salary this year. If Gettleman decided to cut Godfrey, it would only free up about $2m in cap space at the tune of a $5m in dead money.  

On the face, it seems that $2m in cap space would be helpful in either signing one of those 21 free agents, two which were productive safeties, or freeing money for Hardy or Newton.  It’s not that clean, however. Gettleman won’t look at this as dollar for dollar savings. Cutting Godfrey would only make the Panthers short another safety, making Mitchell or Mikell that much more important.  Whatever he allocates to paying Mike Mitchell, Quintin Mikell, or some other freelancer would have to be less than the $2m in cap space freed if by cutting Godfrey. The difference, after even more added salary, would too negligible, too risky, and too costly to make such a cut.

Gettleman alluded that guys like Mitchell wouldn’t be satisfied as contract gypsies forever. Mitchell will understandably be looking for some contract stability in 2014 after his difficult journey back to starting status.

An infamous Al Davis project, Mitchell was drafted higher than most Mel Kiper sycophants expected. He had physical talent and potential, but he needed development. Analysts saw potential, but believed the Raiders could have gotten him later in the draft.  Injuries, that needed development, and playing for the Raiders seemed to validate their concerns. Leaving Oakland as a potential draft bust, Mitchell landed in Carolina fighting for a roster spot. Mitchell made the most of the opportunity by playing an important role in Carolina’s defensive success.

While Panther fans, including myself, clamor for Mitchell’s return, he won’t come cheap. Given Mitchell’s success in Carolina, he will want to capitalize, perhaps with a deal similar to Godfrey’s 4yr/$27.4m contract.  The Panthers won’t be able to pay Mitchell anywhere close, likely resulting in him signing a 3yr deal somewhere else.

Subsidizing a roster with 1yr mercenaries isn’t easy. Unloading big contract players coming of injuries is even harder.  Such players, like Charles Godfrey and Jonathan Stewart are tough to trade and have little incentive to restructure. Why would players, whose NFL futures are in question, sacrifice a bird in the hand by restructuring for less?  These guys are solid roster guys when healthy.  Stewart has never been healthy though and Godfrey remains a question mark.

This is what Gettleman means by cap challenged and one of the reasons he won’t talk contracts. When asked about these big ticket, hard to move contracts, he said “it is what it is”--meaning that 16m in cap money “is what it is” and most likely won’t grow too much.

“It is what it is,” and it doesn’t look good. Godfrey and Stewart will be Panthers next year, which isn’t that disheartening until you think of losing Mitchell and Hardy to free agency. Gettleman warned of the possibility when he noted that every organization has had to let a “big dog” walk.

The Panthers roster will change significantly over the next season.  But be sure, Panther fans will see some of the old faces, whether they like the cost or not.