Panthers are fat cats in terms of cash

By Jeff Linville -

Every offseason leads to questions in the NFL, but at least the Panthers are flush with cash.

A year ago, General Manager Dave Gettleman likened the Panthers searching for free agents to shopping at a dollar store.

Thanks to some good use of draft picks – and some tough decisions on veterans – the Panthers have the ability to shop wherever they please.

Maintaining a contender year after year requires plenty of both ploys: making good on draft picks who are cheaper, and saying goodbye to beloved veterans.

The Patriots have done it for many years. As a Steelers fan, I saw Bill Cowher make tough cuts for years.

It was hard watching Steve Smith and DeAngelo Williams playing for another team the past two seasons, but there were compelling reasons to let them go. And this year will be no different.

On the chopping block this year could be two of Williams’ running mates: RB Jonathan Stewart and FB Mike Tolbert.

There is no doubt that Stewart has been a great runner when healthy, but his issue has been missing a few games every season and being slowed by injuries in some of the games he plays. This can only be expected to get worse as he turns 30.

In his first four seasons, Stewart missed just two games with injuries. Over the past five years, he has missed 26 games, and his yards-per-carry average was less than four in three of those seasons.

If he were making $3 million next year, that would be fine. However, Stewart is set to make $8.25 million this fall. If the team cuts him, Stewart would still get $3.5 million, but the team would get back $4.75 million.

Tolbert has been a fan favorite, especially for trucking over defenders, but he didn’t do that very well this season and appeared to lose some faith with offensive coordinator Mike Shula.

Tolbert averaged just two carries a game and earned just 3.3 yards per carry. Growing fatter and fatter, he seems to have eaten himself out of a job.

The team would save $1.5 million by cutting Tolbert and would only owe him $350,000.

In many instances, the offense used a tight end in the fullback spot instead of Tolbert, but backup TE isn’t a safe bet, either, for next year.

Greg Olsen is still playing well, but getting up in age (32 next season), but Ed Dickson is more of a glorified offensive lineman. He only had 19 balls thrown his way all year and caught 10 – a low percentage considering the attention given Olsen, Kelvin Benjamin and Ted Ginn Jr.

Dickson is owed more than $2.7 million, but the team could get $2.05 million back from cutting him.

If the team performs these three cuts (and likely DT Paul Soliai), then the team would save $10.8 million.

The NFL salary cap is estimated to be in the range of $168 million this fall. The team has commitments of $124.9 million.

Cutting those four players would get the costs down to $114.1 million. That leaves $53.9 million for draft picks, free agents and a contingency fund (in case injuries deplete the team at a specific position).

Then there is a bonus from the spending carryover. Like rollover minutes on a phone plan, the Panthers can carry over the contingency funds for this year. This comes to $13.2 million, third-highest in the NFC behind San Francisco and Washington.

That (and the possible cuts) would put the Panthers at $67.1 million. The team could offer DT Kawann Short a fat contract, with some bonus money up front in this cash-rich season and still look around to fill some roster spots.

The team also has to make some decisions on other free agents like Ginn, Remmers and DE Charles Johnson.

By Jeff Linville

Reach Jeff at 415-4692.

Reach Jeff at 415-4692.