Kalil tied up, Panthers free up space

On the same night they’re deciding who will be their starting quarterback (Cam Newton or Jimmy Clausen) on opening day, the Carolina Panthers just made another huge move.

Center Ryan Kalil, who had been tagged as the team’s franchise player and signed a tender for $10.116 million, has just agreed to a long-term contract that will make him the highest-paid center in history, according to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen.

The deal is for six years and, although we don’t have full details yet, we know it averages more than the $7.75 million per year that Nick Mangold got last year when he became the highest-paid center in NFL history.

The move comes after the Panthers, who went 2-14 with one of the league’s lowest payrolls last year, went on a spending spree coming out of the lockout. Owner Jerry Richardson, one of the lead negotiators in the new labor deal, pledged that his team would be aggressive once there was labor peace.

He has followed through on that promise. The Panthers have paid out well over $100 million just in signing bonuses while re-signing some of their own players, such as defensive end Charles Johnson, linebackers Jon Beason, James Anderson and Thomas Davis and running back DeAngelo Williams. The Panthers also traded for tight end Greg Olsen and turned around and signed him to a new contract.

Throw in Kalil’s deal and the Panthers have been one of the most active teams in the league this preseason. Although Kalil’s contract may seem like a massive long-term commitment, it’s going to help the Panthers in the short term.

They had only about $2.5 million remaining in salary-cap space, but that was with Kalil counting for $10.116 million. Again, we don’t know the structure of his deal, but it’s fair to say no matter what it is, his new cap figure will be at least several million dollars less.

That will give the Panthers flexibility to make even more moves. They would like to add a starting-caliber cornerback and also could be in the market for one more experienced wide receiver. Now, they’ve got the cap space to do whatever they want.