Panthers moving deliberately toward future

A friend of mine from Charlotte just called and asked me what I thought about the “fire sale’’ the Panthers are having today.

I’m going to tell you the same thing I told him. This is not a fire sale. Call the release of Jake Delhomme, Maake Kemoeatu, Damione Lewis, Na’il Diggs and Landon Johnson and the fact Julius Peppers and (maybe) Muhsin Muhammad are walking out the door as free agents a lot of things. But don’t call it a fire sale.

A true fire sale is when you’re getting rid of good players in their prime. Aside from Peppers, none of these guys is in his prime. Delhomme was old and, after his dismal play last season, this decision shouldn’t seem as shocking as many are making it out to be. Muhammad’s also old, but I’m not totally ruling out the possibility of him re-signing with the Panthers.

Kemoeatu, Lewis, Diggs and Johnson? They were role players, who were at the back end of their contracts. They were due salaries that were higher than their actual value.

The Panthers still have their core -- Jon Beason, Thomas Davis, Jordan Gross, Chris Gamble, Steve Smith, Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams in place -- and that’s not a bad core to work with. Besides, some of those guys are coming up on long-term contracts.

If the Panthers start getting rid of those guys, then you’ve got a real fire sale on your hands. But these were pretty basic football decisions (although the Peppers situation was much more complicated). The Panthers have some young guys like Dan Connor, Everette Brown and Charles Johnson that they have high hopes for and that they want to get on the field.

I also believe owner Jerry Richardson has a hand in all this. In part, I think this is a message to players about the uncertain labor situation. Like many owners, Richardson, is worried about the possibility of a lockout in 2011. In an uncapped year, Richardson is slashing costs. These moves aren’t much different than what the Panthers would do in a capped year.

Richardson is showing the rest of his players the oil/water/money well, while not dry, isn’t flowing freely these days.