CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The Carolina Panthers have put themselves in position financially to begin negotiating with players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents.
Last week’s release of defensive end Charles Johnson, defensive tackle Dwan Edwards and backup offensive tackle Nate Chandler left Carolina with about $28 million in cap space. That is after $13,952,000 was committed to cornerback Josh Norman with the franchise tag.
A big chunk of that space could go to signing Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kawann Short to a long-term deal before he enters the final year of his rookie deal. Some will go to restricted-free-agent right tackle Mike Remmers and wide receiver Stephen Hill. It’s unlikely the Panthers will try to keep defensive end Frank Alexander, who last season violated the league’s substance abuse policy for a third time. The Panthers also will re-sign several players scheduled to become UFAs on Wednesday.
Let’s look at the odds of what might happen, using the terms for injured players: probable, questionable, doubtful and out.
WR Jerricho Cotchery: He’ll be 34 in June. As big of a locker room presence as he has been the past two seasons, the depth at receiver with Kelvin Benjamin and Hill returning from 2015 season-ending ACL injuries makes Cotchery a long shot to return. Return: Doubtful.
CB Cortland Finnegan: He came out of semi-retirement late last season and became the starting nickel back because of injuries. He doesn’t look done. The Panthers need a nickel back with Bene Benwikere moving to the every-down corner opposite Norman. Finnegan has said Carolina is the only team he would play for in 2016. Carolina may explore other options first. Return: Doubtful.
G Tyronne Green: You’ve never heard of him, right? Return: Out.
DT Kyle Love: With the release of Edwards, the Panthers need a veteran to blend in with a likely draft pick behind Star Lotulelei and Short. Love would come at a bargain, and the two sides have been talking. Return: Probable.
P Brad Nortman: He’s been the kicker since he was drafted in sixth round of the 2012 draft. Carolina signed Swazye Waters from the Canadian Football League as insurance, but it’s hard to imagine Carolina going into camp without Nortman. Return: Probable.
OL Amini Silatolu: When healthy he’s good enough to start; indeed, he has 28 career starts. The problem is he’s played in only 18 games the past three years due to injuries. He’ll come cheap. Return: Probable.
CB Charles Tillman: His past three seasons have ended with an injury. He’s 35. It just doesn’t make sense to bring him back. Return: Out.
FB Mike Tolbert: This is a tough one because he’s one of coach Ron Rivera’s favorites. He’s also been solid on the field at a position few teams really use anymore. Even he was de-emphasized in 2015. Tolbert wants to return, but the Panthers also want to look at young backs on their roster. He’ll have to take a big pay cut to return. Return: Questionable.
C Fernando Velasco: He’s been solid in a backup role for Ryan Kalil, and he also can play guard. But the Panthers are looking for more long-term depth at this position and they’ve also looked at Remmers there. Return: Doubtful.
QB Joe Webb: He’s the third-string quarterback, a reserve wide receiver and a solid special-teams player. Versatility gets him another year, barring a better offer from another team. Return: Probable.