Where's the money? Defensive end

A look at the defensive end position in my series on where the money is for the Carolina Panthers:

Total position spending: $33,173,774

Spending vs. league average: 1


Analysis: A big reason the Panthers ranked second in the NFL in total defense last season and first in sacks was the performance of their defensive ends. It came at a cost, though. Charles Johnson counts a quarter of the '14 defensive salary cap at $16.4 million. Greg Hardy at $13.1 million counts for another 20 percent, although the Panthers actually got him for a deal with the franchise tag considering what it would have taken to sign their 2013 sack leader (15) long-term. Together, they're a big reason the Panthers rank first in the league at spending at this position. The situation is manageable for now because rising defensive stars such as middle linebacker Luke Kuechly and tackle Star Lotulelei are under their rookie contracts. But something has to give soon. Having second-round draft pick Kony Ealy waiting in the wings gives general manager Dave Gettleman flexibility. Carolina had him rated a late first-round pick. If he performs, the Panthers can either part ways with Johnson, who had knee issues toward the end of last season, or not re-sign Hardy, whose off-the-field issues have been well documented. The Panthers also are high on Mario Addison and Wes Horton, both solid value players. But as long as the Panthers remain set in their current philosophy of building around the defensive front seven -- which requires big, pass-rushing ends -- you'll see them spend a lot at this position. Whether they can afford to rank No. 1 in the league with new deals coming for Kuechly and quarterback Cam Newton in the near future remains to be seen.