There was a lot of outrage in the Carolinas early in the offseason when the Panthers pulled off what some fans called a purge and some called a bloodletting.
The Panthers let go of seven popular veterans and I’m not even counting the fact they simply let Julius Peppers walk into free agency. The cries back in February were that the team was being cheap and dumping salaries. I never truly bought into that because it looked to me like the Panthers were just getting rid of some old guys who they didn’t think were worth their contracts anymore, although I admit I wasn’t a big fan of seeing Brad Hoover pushed out the door.
I stand by all that, but now I feel even stronger that this wasn’t purely a case of owner Jerry Richardson trying to save money. I’ve had a chance to look at and crunch some numbers and I think we can put what Carolina did in the offseason into better perspective.
First off, let’s remember there is no salary cap for 2010. If there was, the Panthers would be sitting at $124 million right now. Here’s the part that’s highly significant -- $29.2 million of that is in what would be called “dead money’’ in a capped year.
What the Panthers did was to decide essentially to dump a lot of future big-cap figures in a year in which there are no cap consequences for that. No one -- not even Richardson, who is heavily involved in the negotiations -- knows what’s going to happen with the labor situation going forward. There’s the possibility of a lockout in 2011. There’s also the possibility an agreement will be reached and a salary cap will be in place.
If that happens, the Panthers are sitting in very good shape. Even if coach John Fox, who is beginning the final year of his contract is gone, whoever is running the show likely will have a ton of cap room to work with.
As it stands right now, the Panthers have just about $70 million committed toward a 2011 cap. Only the Chiefs, Raiders and Buccaneers have less committed and none of them are dramatically below the Panthers. The league average teams have committed toward the salary cap right now is $96 million.
If there’s a cap in place for 2011, I'll guess and say it's likely to be somewhere around $130 million to $140 million and those numbers could be on the low end. That means the Panthers will have at least $60 million to re-sign some of their own key players and go out and get some new ones. That’s not a bad spot to be in.
Now, let’s move on and try to shred one other myth about the “bloodletting.’’ When the Panthers let Hoover, Jake Delhomme, Na'il Diggs, Landon Johnson, Maake Kemoeatu, Damione Lewis and Chris Harris go, it wasn’t totally about saving money.
To start with, the Panthers had to hand Delhomme a $12 million check (money he was guaranteed) when he walked out the door. Diggs was scheduled to make $1.1 million this season and the Panthers had to write him a check for $1.233 million. They had to pay Kemoeatu, who was scheduled to earn $755,000 in base salary, $2.63 million because they didn’t exercise the option on his contract. It was kind of the same deal for Lewis -- he got $1.42 million for not having his option exercised and was only schedule to earn $855,000 in salary and a workout bonus.
In other words, the Panthers paid those guys a lot of money just to go away and get them off the books for the future. In the cases of Hoover, Harris and Johnson, the Panthers saved some money, but, relatively speaking, it wasn’t all that much.
By cutting Hoover, they saved his scheduled $850,000 base salary. Unloading Johnson saved the Panthers just over $2 million. Trading Harris to Chicago pushed his $2 million salary over to the Bears. Theoretically, the Panthers would be taking a $2.145 million cap hit for Harris if there was a cap this year because of pro-rated money.
But Harris, and all the others, are off the books for 2011, when the Panthers conceivably could go out and buy about half an NFL team.