Best & Worst Contracts 2014: Carolina Panthers

We start the week off with the Carolina Panthers…

Best Contract: Nate Chandler

Nate ChandlerThere have been a few teams where I’ll mention having a hard time finding a good contract or a really bad contract, but this is the first team where I almost feel guilty even naming a good contract. The Panthers veteran contracts are almost all a mess. The contracts contain excessively high signing bonuses, huge annual values,  voidable contract years, over the top guarantees, and all kinds of other things that make for player friendly deals. Many of the players have talent (Charles Johnson, Greg Hardy, Greg Olsen, etc…) but if ever there was a team in need of a Raiders style contract purge it’s this one.

With that in mind I selected Nate Chandler because of the upside of the contract. Chandler was switched from the defensive to offensive line last season with starts at both guard and right tackle. Knowing that retirement was an issue with incumbent left tackle Jordan Gross the Panthers felt as if Chandler could possibly be the starting left tackle in 2014. Once he would achieve that status his potential salary could skyrocket. Even if he projected to a starting guard or right tackle you would be looking a $4 million a year for a decent player.

So the Panthers made the move to extend early, trading in a few dollars of guaranteed salary for a very low cost starter on the offensive line.  Chandler was an undrafted free agent in 2012 and thus he would have been a restricted free agent in 2015. Had he played the contract out he would have earned $570,000 in 2014 and, assuming he was a starting lineman, in the ballpark of $2 million a season in 2015 under the second round tender.

The Panthers contract with Chandler pays him $2.12 million over the next two seasons, which is a discount on the scenario above. His guarantee of $1.87 million is essentially the equivalent of having him play out next year under the lower cost right of first refusal tender. For that added guarantee and slight job security the Panthers lock Chandler up for $3 million total over the 2016 ad 2017 seasons, a bargain basement price if he is a starter on the lie. IF he plays well he would have been a franchise candidate in 2015. Now he will play for $1.5 million.

While it’s a risk since there is almost no track record to go on, the Panthers only gave a small signing bonus to mitigate that risk. He could be cut in 2015 with $1.1 million in dead money charges and just $400,000 if released in 2016.  As long as he is healthy and in a backup role the deal is more than fair. If he hits big it’s a major benefit for a team with a really bad salary cap situation.

Worst Contract: Jonathan Stewart

jonathan stewartThe decision to offer a monster contract extension to running back Jonathan Stewart in 2012 was one of the strangest decisions made in the NFL.  The timing of the contract was bizarre. The year prior the Panthers had signed running back DeAngelo Williams to a large contract extension and just a few months earlier they signed Mike Tolbet to a free agent contract. All told the team was already committed over $11 million a season to the position when they offered Stewart a $7.3 million a year contract.

The logic behind the price tag is one I can’t even figure out. Stewart, at best, was a part time running back. He started 13 games in four years, was not much of a receiver, and had just one 1,000 yard season to his name. When Williams was injured in 2010 his numbers dropped to just 770 yards and his effectiveness was no better than Mike Goodson. In 2011, with a less effective Williams back, Stewart logged just 761 yards. But somehow the Panthers were convinced and signed one of the worst contracts in the NFL.

Stewart’s contract was an absolute minefield for the organization. Stewart received a $9 million signing bonus  and $11.5 million in full guarantees upon signing, but the realistic guarantee in the contract was upwards of $20 million. If Stewart was on the roster after the 2012 Super Bowl, meaning just six months after signing his contract, an additional $9 million in salary would be guaranteed in 2014 and another $2.5 million would become guaranteed in 2015. There was also no offset language in the contract. So the Panthers were completely tied down.

In 2014 Stewart was to receive the $9 million additional guarantee in the form of an option bonus.  The team tinkered with the contract in 2013 to help relieve some cap charges later in the contract and then reworked it again in 2014 to create cap space in 2014, in part by adding a voidable contract year. It’s left the Panthers with $13.6 million in dead money in 2015 if they chose to release Stewart next year and $7.3 million in dead money if they released him in 2016. In each remaining year of his contract his salary cap charge will never be less than $8.25 million.

Stewart was one the least productive back of his time period to receive a contract like this one. It’s gotten worse now because Stewart is never healthy, playing just 15 games in the last two seasons. In the last two years Stewart has earned around $13 million and produced around 500 rushing yards. He will earn $8.285 million this season in likely another season as a part time back splitting carries with others on the team. There is nothing the Panthers can do with him. They are stuck with him for the foreseeable future, essentially locked into $8+ million a season in sunk salary cap costs that are one level above pure dead money. This is one of the worst contract’s in the NFL and should continue to be that until at least 2015.

2013’s Best and Worst Panthers Contracts:

2013 Best Contract: Dwan Edwards (Remains on team)

2013 Worst Contract: Jonathan Stewart (See above)

Click Here to Check out OTC’s other Best and Worst Contracts from around the NFL!

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Questions about this article? Reach Jason Fitzgerald on Twitter at @Jason_OTC