Ealy gives Panthers flexibility for the future

May, 10, 2014
May 10
12:35
AM ET
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy was blinged out with jewelry that players attending the NFL draft in New York City are loaned with the option to purchase.

"I'm not going to keep any of it," Ealy said by phone Friday night after the Carolina Panthers selected him in the second round with the 60th overall pick. "It's just kind of for show."

Getting Ealy may give general manager Dave Gettleman the option -- or at least leverage -- to cut some bling from his salary cap before the 2015 season.

[+] EnlargeKony Ealy
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsDrafting Kony Ealy gives the Panthers some leverage with Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy.
Gettleman has done an amazing job of getting the Panthers' cap issues under control during his first year-and-a-half. But with starting left end Charles Johnson ($16,420,000) and right end Greg Hardy ($13,116,000) scheduled to count more than $29 million against the cap in 2014 and even more in 2015, one might have to go after this season.

Think about it. If Ealy is the pass-rushing "blue goose" -- Gettleman's term for a rare pass-rusher -- in the NFL that he was last season at Missouri, when he had 9.5 sacks and 14 quarterback pressures, the Panthers will have the leverage to let either Johnson or Hardy move on after this season.

Johnson, who will turn 28 in July, is scheduled to count $17,420,000 against the cap in 2015. Despite collecting 11 sacks in 14 games this past season, he showed some wear and tear late with a knee sprain that kept him out of two games.

Hardy was given the franchise tag after leading the team in sacks with 15, which will cost the team $13.1 million against the cap unless they sign him to a long-term deal before the mid-July deadline. A long-term deal potentially will push him into the range of $15 million or more per year in future seasons.

That's a lot for two players.

With the middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, the reigning NFC Defensive Player of the Year, and quarterback Cam Newton coming up on negotiations for long-term deals, Gettleman will need cap room.

Replacing either Johnson or Hardy with a player such as Ealy, if ready to move into the starting rotation after a year, would cost the team only about $3.6 million for the next four seasons combined.

Gettleman believes Ealy is as good as advertised. He had a first-round rating on him and was "shocked" he was there deep in the second round.

Ealy has the potential to at worst put Johnson in the position of having to renegotiate to a much lower number. Leverage is big. It's why Gettleman was able to recently get free safety Charles Godfrey to renegotiate his deal to save the team more than $4 million under the cap this season.

This might sound cold to be talking salary cap on what is a big night for Ealy and third-round pick Trai Turner, a big guard out of LSU. But that is the cold, harsh reality of the NFL.

Gettleman has to think not only of this season, but years to come when shaping the roster. If confidence is a measuring stick, Ealy has a chance to be a part of that roster long term.

"I hate losing," Ealy said. "I hate a guy making a play on my watch."

Sounds a bit like Hardy, aka "The Kraken."

At 6-foot-4 and 273 pounds, Ealy is built a lot like Hardy and is versatile like him. He played inside at tackle and outside at end at Missouri, something Hardy does for Carolina.

"It's big," Gettleman said.

When asked if he was disappointed to be selected by a team that has two proven ends, Ealy didn't hesitate.

"Not at all," he said.

Gettleman can't be disappointed. He got a "blue goose" and potentially much-needed leverage to get rid of some bling.

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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