The NFL Draft is still three weeks away, but at the crazy rate teams have been signing huge free-agent deals, there won’t be any money left for the college kids.
I’ve heard several times over the years that free agency tends to do more harm than good for a team, but that doesn’t seem to stop general managers from using that old Futurama line, “Shut up and take my money!”
Sure, signing Julius Peppers a year ago turned out to be a great deal for the Panthers, but Captain Munnerlyn and Russell Shepard didn’t do much to help the team, Mike Adams was only so-so, and Matt Kalil’s enormous contract is going to hamper the team for years.
For every Kurt Coleman who turns out to be a good bargain for the money, there is a Drayton Florence or Antoine Cason who doesn’t work out, possibly several of them.
Easily the best free agency for the Panthers was 1996, the team’s second year of existence. The team signed four players who would be multi-year starters: QB Steve Beuerlein, LB Kevin Greene, TE Wesley Walls and CB Eric Davis.
Another good year was 2001 when the team picked up two key pieces for the offensive line (Jeff Mitchell and Kevin Donnalley), DT Brentson Buckner and long-time long snapper Jason Kyle.
2006 gets third place with Justin Hartwig coming in to replace Mitchell at center, Maake Kemoeatu taking Buckner’s role, and Damione Lewis working as a situational pass rusher.
Of course, look what happened in 2007 as the team was so tapped out on money that it only signed backup safety Deke Cooper.
Rookies are cheap, and free agents are very expensive. Too expensive in my opinion.
The Panthers would have loved to re-sign Andrew Norwell and Star Lotuleilei, but the money just kept getting bigger and bigger. Lotuleilei signed a five-year deal with Buffalo worth $50 million. Norwell signed with Jacksonville for $66.5 million.
The Lotuleilei deal is front-end heavy with $17.1 million coming this season, and then four seasons in the $8 million range.
Norwell will also get $17 million this year, but then the rest of the deal is more lucrative at about $12.5 million.
Ed Dickson made $2 million a year for three years with the Panthers, but now the Seahawks are giving him $3.6 million for three years.
That is a lot of money for a guy who had one big game and then disappeared while Greg Olsen was hurt. He had 175 yards against the Lions, but only 25 catches for 262 yards in the other 15 games. In three losses to the Saints, he had a total of four catches for 31 yards.
According to spotrac.com, the Panthers only have an estimated $6.28 million left on the $181.6 million salary cap, once the site figured in how much it will take to sign their draft picks.
That is almost nothing in NFL terms. Nine guys on the team will make more than that this season.
What if Cam Newton goes down to an injury? The team doesn’t have much left to sign a veteran backup to fill in.
What if a good running back or safety can’t be grabbed in the draft? Is the team okay going forward with Christian McCaffrey handling so many running plays when he is better as a pass catcher? Are we confident in 57-year-old Mike Adams at strong safety?
Back in January I wrote a column about what I would do if I were Roger Goodell for a day. I wasted my time as commissioner on talking about awards. THIS is where I should have used my powers.
If I had complete control of the NFL for a day I would implement a maximum-salary plan similar to the NBA.
The elite players would complain, but the rest of the team would be ecstatic. Why? Consider this:
Cam Newton ($21.5M), Kawann Short ($17M) and Luke Kuechley ($13.1M) make up $51.6 million of the team’s $181.6 million cap space. That leaves 50 other guys splitting up $130 million.
Add in Ryan Kalil ($9.9M), Olsen (9.75M) and Mario Addison ($9.67M), and that is $80.9 million. That means there are 47 guys to divvy up $100.7 million, which is $2.14 million each. True, that’s nothing to sneeze at, but a far cry from the $15 million the top six guys are averaging.
And Cam is now considered middle of the road in NFL salaries. According to spotrac.com, Cam is now 14th among QBs. If he were getting Jimmy Garoppolo money, then another $5 million would go toward the position.
Yes, I know that QBs are the most important position of the three major sports (MLB and NBA too). They are a starting pitcher that throws 162 games.
But when the bulk of a team’s cap space goes to one guy, the rest of the team is severely hampered.
Andrew Luck’s contract pays $24.59 million a year and Aaron Rodgers $22 million, but when they were hurt and missed lots of games, all that money didn’t help the team compete.
In the NBA there are 12 players on the bench, so if everyone were paid equally, that would be 8.33 percent of the total team salary.
An NBA maximum contract is 25 percent of the cap for players 0-6 years or 30 percent for years 7-9. That means a max deal is worth three times what the average player would make for younger guys and almost four times the average for veterans.
In the NFL, the average salary this season will be $3.43 million. Three times that amount would be $10.3 million; four times would be $13.7 million.
You could even give QBs a five-times salary and say $17.1 million.
That sounds like a whole lot of money to me. And it wouldn’t cripple a team financially if a player gets hurt or has a sudden drop in production.
Jeff is the news editor and can be reached at 415-4692.