NFL | Carolina Panthers

Carolina’s Gettleman faces tough decisions with Panthers’ salary cap

The Associated PressJanuary 16, 2013 

— Dave Gettleman got his dream job. Now comes the tough part.

Carolina’s new general manager will spend the next few weeks evaluating the Panthers’ roster in depth and finding ways to trim at least $16 million of fat from the team’s salary cap.

The 61-year-old Gettleman, who joined the Panthers from the New York Giants last week, inherited a team that currently has $136 million committed to 2013 salaries, significantly over the NFL’s projected salary cap of $120 million per team.

That means Gettleman faces tough decisions in regard to big-ticket players like cornerback Chris Gamble, linebacker Jon Beason, running back DeAngelo Williams and offensive tackle Jordan Gross, as well as several mid-range salary players who start like offensive lineman Geoff Hangartner, safety Haruki Nakamura and defensive tackle Ron Edwards.

Gettleman, who was introduced at a press conference on Tuesday, said his head has been spinning since he was hired last week and he hasn’t had a chance to evaluate the roster. He said he wasn’t prepared to comment on individual players.

“The first thing you have to do is properly evaluate your team,” Gettleman said of the forthcoming evaluation process. “You have to do it unemotionally. You have to do it objectively. But that’s on my agenda.”

When Gettleman begins breaking down the numbers he’ll find a Carolina team that has $63.25 million in salary cap space committed to six players – defensive end Charles Johnson ($13 million), Gross ($11.7 million), Gamble ($10.9 million), center Ryan Kalil ($9.95 million), Beason ($9.5 million), and Williams ($8.2 million).

Quarterback Cam Newton ($6 million), receiver Steve Smith ($5.75 million) and tight end Greg Olsen ($5.7 million) account for an additional $17.5 million in cap space.

So essentially two-thirds – or $80 million – of the team’s salary cap is slated to go to nine players.

The cap problems stem from the summer of 2011 when Panthers owner Jerry Richardson emerged from the NFL lockout with an open wallet, handing out more than $100 million in guaranteed money to seven of the team’s free agents who were set to hit the free agent market.

It was an interesting decision to keep all of those players considering the Panthers were coming off a 2-14 season.

The contracts, which negotiated by former GM Marty Hurney, included such large signing bonuses it would actually cost the Panthers more under this year’s cap to cut players like Johnson, Kalil and safety Charles Godfrey than to keep them.

Cutting Gamble would offer the Panthers the biggest cap savings.

The former first-round pick is in the final year of his contract and the Panthers could save $7 million by cutting the former first-round draft pick.

Gross’ salary cap figure is the second-highest on the team and the Panthers could save $6.7 million if they parted ways with the 10-year veteran. However, Gross is considered a valuable member of the offensive line and in charge of protecting Newton’s blindside, so restructuring his deal might be an option.

Beason has been to three Pro Bowls for the Panthers but his future remains a question mark given the emergence of rookie Luke Kuechly, who led the NFL in tackles this season. However, Beason’s guaranteed base salary and prorated signing bonus would offer minimal cap savings, so he too could be up for a restructure.

Carolina’s decision to make a long-term commitment to Jonathan Stewart this past offseason raised questions about Williams’ future at running back.

But since he’s due $9.6 million in guaranteed money over the next two seasons the only way to create cap space would be to wait until after June 1 and split the remainder of his prorated signing bonus over two seasons. That would offer the Panthers $3.4 million in cap savings this year, although Williams would still count $4.8 million in each of the next two seasons.

The Panthers could save an additional $6.4 million by cutting Edwards, Hangartner, Nakamura and offensive lineman Garry Williams.

The reality is there aren’t many easy answers for the Panthers.

Gettleman said it’s too early to know what he and his staff will do to get under the cap. Gettleman said going forward the most important thing is to put the proper value on the player.

“You get into trouble when you overpay,” Gettleman said. “The litmus test on the cap is if the ink is dry and you’re not happy, then you made a mistake. That’s basically it.”

The decisions will be made with input from the entire pro personnel staff, but Gettleman will have ultimate say in who stays and who goes.

“We’ll sit down, discuss the issue, make sure we ask the right questions so that we’ll get the right answers and then we’ll make decisions,” Gettleman said. “If it’s a situation where I have to make a unilateral decision, that’s a part of the gig. That’s my job. That’s what Mr. Richardson has hired me to do.”

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