At approximately $5million over the projected salary cap, the Panthers find themselves in a bind when it comes to roster moves this offseason. After going 7-9 last season and missing the playoffs, the Panthers will be very eager to make the leap up into playoff contention. To do that they will need to improve their passing offense and overall defense which gave up too many big plays. The core of their team and top earners are locked up to long term deals which makes it very difficult to cut any of them to create cap space. End Charles Johnson counts for $13m against the cap this year as part of his now exorbitant 6 year/$76million deal signed under the old CBA, of course given he lead the team in sacks last season with 12.5, it may not be wise to alter his contract so far. With nearly $15m tied up in their backfield, the Panthers would love to move on from one of DeAngelo Williams or Jonathon Stewart but neither option makes sense financially. The only player that could be sent packing (or asked to reduce his deal) is cornerback Chris Gamble who would save around $8million if he left the team, especially since he is on the wrong side of 30 and only played in four games last year due to injury.
Assuming that some creative accounting can give the Panthers some room to maneuver in free agency, they first need to work out which of their own players they want to return. Captain Munnerlyn is one of a group of young cornerbacks expected to hit the market as the Panthers won’t be able to bring him back. For around $3-4m per year he could return to the Panthers but it will have to be a team friendly deal to afford him. After a trade from Oakland, Louis Murphy had a limited impact in his first season with the Panthers but at least he was able to play in every game, starting five. With the Panthers in desperate need of quality at receiver, Murphy may represent a legitimate, cheap option for them to bring back given his familiarity with Cam Newton.
While the Panthers are well stocked in the backfield, they could use some help at wide receiver to take some pressure off Steve Smith who is getting up there in years and could benefit from another outside threat. Steve Breaston, recently cut by the Chiefs could be the best option to come in and compete with Brandon LaFell and the rest of the receivers. In a deep defensive tackle class the Panthers will likely address this need in the draft since there will be a talented player on offer, picked to wow by many at the combine, Alabama’s Australian monster Jessie Williams could find himself here if he wows in the interviews and workouts. Whoever they do select though will need to get some penetration through the middle to help out the two guys on the end since they were the only two players that registered a respectable tally of sacks last season. On the back end the Panthers need someone at safety who can make some sort of impact and not get beaten like he is a female character in Game of Thrones. Veteran safety James Sanders could be the best fit here as he fills the consistent, unremarkable but very reliable type of player that they so sorely need.
The talent for the Panthers is there, the star power is there, they just need to fill in that second tier of role players who can come in and do a job to really step up. If they can improve their passing offense and get Cam Newton closer to 30 touchdowns than 20, as well as add an extra presence on the line then their passing game on both sides of the ball will see a substantial improvement.