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Mailbag: How much do the Panthers have to spend in free agency?

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers made their first move of the offseason by re-assigning special teams coach Richard Rodgers and promoting Bruce DeHaven into that position.

What’s next?

@DNewtonESPN: As it stands now the Panthers are about $10.5 million under the cap. But since we don't know what the 2015 salary cap is going to be, that is not a firm figure. In other words, it will go up. Their cap space will also go up if the Panthers opt to release veterans such as running back DeAngelo Williams and free safety Thomas DeCoud. The good news for Carolina is it doesn't have a ton of its own free agents to re-sign as it did a year ago. The successful influx of young players late in the season also doesn't put as much urgency on spending big bucks on more than a few key positions, such as offensive tackle, wide receiver, and maybe cornerback. Ideally, general manager Dave Gettleman would like to have somewhere between $15 million and $20 million to spend. He should get in that range.

@DNewtonESPN: Still too early to tell with free agency not beginning until March 10. The Panthers are evaluating their own roster and making a preliminary free agent list. Some of the names out there could be re-signed by their current teams before they get to the open market. But if you're looking for a few names that might fall into Carolina's price range, San Diego's King Dunlap and Derek Newton, as you mentioned, could be there. The Titans released Michael Oher (see the movie "The Blind Side"), so he might be an option at a decent price if the Panthers believe he has a few good years left in him. There probably also are a few right tackles that the team will consider to possibly move to the left side. Again, a lot can happen in the next month.

@DNewtonESPN: First, team owner Jerry Richardson obviously was embarrassed by what has happened already, and he doesn't like to be embarrassed. As much as coach Ron Rivera and some players might believe Greg Hardy deserves another chance, Richardson has the final say. I can't see him giving his blessings to a return by Hardy, no matter the result of Hardy's domestic violence trial that begins on Monday. Plus, the defense played well once players and coaches moved on last season and accepted that Hardy wasn't coming back. With the salary-cap situation and what Hardy might demand, it's probably best the Panthers put that money into tying up Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly long term.

@DNewtonESPN: Hardy is free to sign with another team beginning on March 10.

@DNewtonESPN: Nothing bold. But if you want a prediction, you could see the Panthers release Williams and DeCoud. They almost assuredly will sign quarterback Cam Newton to long-term deal and extend the deal of tight end Greg Olsen. About the boldest thing I could predict would be for the Panthers to bring back left tackle Byron Bell for a price and at least give him a chance to compete for the job. That would be bold only in that so many people believe Bell doesn't deserve another shot.

@DNewtonESPN: Definitely. Gettleman never saw a good pass-rusher he was willing to pass up. Preston Smith isn't projected as a first-rounder now, but if he were there in the second or third round he would definitely get a look.

@DNewtonESPN: The Panthers passed on Hakeem Nicks last season for several reasons, including a family history in Charlotte, and I would suspect that might be the case again this year. Torrey Smith and Jeremy Maclin would be viable names. The Panthers need a solid speed receiver to play opposite Kelvin Benjamin. I'm not convinced Philly Brown is the answer, but I'm also not convinced he can't be. Keep in mind this is another deep year at wide receiver in the draft. If the Panthers can fill that need there, it would save a ton of money that could be used elsewhere. Although the cap space is better this year, I still don't see Gettleman spending a ton on this position.

@DNewtonESPN: I like different. And I have seen pictures of the black helmets. Honestly, I love them. But Richardson is a traditionalist and I don't see him making that change. I also like the black pants. Curious, what uniform (and helmet) color combinations would the fans most like to see?

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