Four things to help Panthers get Nicks

Now we know Hakeem Nicks' hometown Carolina Panthers are one of three teams the soon-to-be-former New York Giants wide receiver would be interested in playing for in 2014.

He said so Sunday in an interview with ESPN's Josina Anderson, listing Carolina, Indianapolis and San Diego as possible destinations in free agency, which begins Tuesday.

"Ideally, this is what I want," Nicks told Anderson. "I want to go to a team where I'm the missing link. There are a number of teams now that I have my eye on once I hit the market. I know if I went to a place like Indianapolis I would be dangerous with a quarterback like Andrew Luck. I can see myself catching passes from Cam Newton or even Philip Rivers."

Nicks, contrary to a report on Saturday, also said he wants a long-term deal.

What he didn't say is how he could make a deal work with the salary-cap-strapped Panthers, assuming they want Nicks.

You would have to assume there is interest, considering general manager Dave Gettleman was with the Giants prior to last season and he's made it clear upgrading wide receiver is a priority.

Here are four things that could help:

  • Hometown discount: If Nicks really wants to return to Charlotte, where he starred at Independence High, one option would be to bite the bullet on a large number in his first year or two. That would be the "hometown discount" that defensive end Greg Hardy kept talking about before being hit with the franchise tag. With only about $7 million left under the cap, Carolina can't sign Nicks and shore up the secondary and offensive line.

  • Smith factor: The Panthers still haven't said whether or how 34-year-old receiver Steve Smith fits into their future. If they decide Smith can play nice and accept the role of No. 2 receiver, the best way Smith can show his good faith would be to restructure his contract that will count $7 million against the cap this season. If they decide Smith can't play nice, then trading or cutting him would be an option, even though it makes little sense financially. Cutting Smith would save only about $2 million, and the Panthers still would have to pay him $5 million. Regardless of what happens with Smith, the Panthers will draft a receiver in the first or second round. Putting a young star with Nicks and/or Smith would be a huge upgrade.

  • Other restructures: Defensive end Charles Johnson still has a high cap number of $16.4 million, as does free safety Charles Godfrey at $7.1 million. Restructuring one or both of those could clear room to sign Nicks. This needs to happen regardless for the Panthers to improve the overall team.

  • Cam factor: If Newton wants new toys -- and he definitely needs them to take his game to the next level -- then he has to be patient on a long-term deal. The Panthers still have until May to use the fifth-year option that would guarantee Newton is on the roster through 2015. They can use the extra time to negotiate a long-term deal. It just probably can't happen this year with so many holes to fill and so little money to do it.

The good news for Carolina is Nicks isn't coming off 1,000-yard receiving seasons such as he had in 2010 and 2011. He had 56 catches for 896 yards and no touchdowns last season and 53 catches for 692 yards and three touchdowns the year before. Smith can put up those numbers in his sleep. He had 64 catches for 745 yards and four touchdowns last season despite missing the regular-season finale with a knee injury.

Although reportedly good to go, past knee and ankle injuries also could keep Nicks' salary down. Perhaps he would be willing to take a low number for the first year loaded with incentives based on performance.

We don't really know. All we know is that Carolina is one of the teams Nicks would like to join, and the Panthers desperately need help at wide receiver.