Panthers' cap woes will last several years

There’s a reason why the Carolina Panthers have been the NFC South’s quietest team so far in free agency -- and I don’t expect them to suddenly change course and start bringing in a bunch of players.

Aside from signing cornerback Drayton Florence and re-signing backup quarterback Derek Anderson to contracts for the veteran minimum benefit (a loophole that allows veteran players to cost less against the salary cap than what they really earn), the Panthers have done nothing in free agency.

That’s because the Panthers are still digging out of a salary-cap mess. As it stands right now, they’re less than $3 million under this year’s salary cap. In theory, the Panthers could sign some players and structure the deals to make them fit under this year’s salary cap.

But this nightmare isn’t just about this year. The Panthers aren’t in a position where they can afford to sign big-name free agents to long-term contacts. That’s because they already are facing a cap mess for next year and potentially for 2015.

Carolina already has $127 million committed toward next year’s salary cap and that obviously doesn’t include the players they draft this year. This year’s draft class will put the Panthers at well over $130 million in cap space next year and the cap isn’t expected to rise much from this year’s $130 million figure.

Then, there’s 2015. The Panthers already have $107 million committed toward the 2015 cap and that’s for only 19 players. The players they draft in 2014 and 2015 are going to take up a good chunk of cap space. Oh, by the way, Carolina’s probably going to sign quarterback Cam Newton to a huge contract extension before the 2015 season.

Long story short: It’s going to be several more years before Carolina has the salary-cap room to be a player in free agency.