The Carolina Panthers began the process of attempting to navigate a poor salary cap situation by restructuring the contracts of RB Jonathan Stewart, C Ryan Kalil, and LB Thomas Davis. The Panthers are following a similar model with their players at this stage using the voidable contract year for the sake of short term cap compliance. It’s a similar method used (or maybe abused is the better word) by the Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins and, in the past, the Oakland Raiders. The Panthers will need to bank on large salary cap increases in the future to offset the additional dead money or lack of contract leverage they will have with these players.
Stewart was restructured for the second time in two years. He converted $715,000 of base salary to go along with a $6.875 million bonus that was already in his contract. To reduce his cap charge they added a voidable season in 2018 to allow the bonus to prorate over five rather than four years. The team saved just over $900,000 in the restructure.
Restructuring Kalil is also an annual endeavor for the Panthers as he takes a big prorated bonus in lieu of salary for the second time in two years. Kalil already had one voidable season in his contract and now they added a second one to allow for longer proration of salaries. It saves the Panthers just over $3.1 million in 2014, but increases his cap in 2015 to nearly $11.8 million. With over $12 million in dead money in the contract next year the Panthers have basically assured Kalil of a lucrative contract extension in 2015. The Center market had pulled back considerably since the Panthers signed Kalil to the top contract at the position but he will likely set the market again because of the leverage he holds with Carolina.
Davis’ restructure might be the most controversial of the three. Davis has battled injuries in the past and the Panthers added three voidable years to his contract. The team had the right to pay him a $2.5 million bonus to extend his contract this year, which would have been prorated over two seasons, but instead they converted salary into a bonus on top of the option and prorated it over five seasons. He receives a $5 million bonus and that reduced his cap charge by $2.25 million. However his 2015 cap now jumps to just over $10 million with his dead money increasing to $5.57 million.
The Panthers find themselves in a difficult spot because the contracts that were signed by the prior General Manager were very player friendly, but the team also exceeded expectations in 2013, making it more difficult to consider eating a year for cap purposes in 2014.
Carolina arguably has the worst salary cap outlook of any team in the NFL moving forward. The team has around $102 million committed to the 2015 salary cap with just 29 players under contract. Those players do not include QB Cam Newton or DE Greg Hardy, two mega ticket items. Newton will either be playing on the transition tag number or on a contract that pays in the $16-$18 million a year vicinity. Hardy will be one of the highest paid defensive ends in the NFL. So this restructuring of deals is a juggling act the team will likely have to continue to do next season if they keep both players.
If the cap is $130 million this year the Panthers should have $18 million or so in cap to work with. That is enough to franchise tag Hardy around $13 million and try to work out a contract extension. I have seen the reports about Carolina being nearly $29 million under the salary cap but at this time none of my estimates have the number that high. I’ll see if I can find out if any other changes occurred to the Panthers cap in the last few days to push it that high.