Ownership transition tops busy offseason for Panthers

On May 22, NFL owners unanimously voted to approve the sale of the Carolina Panthers to hedge fund billionaire David Tepper. John Bazemore/AP Photo

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- For most NFL teams, this time of year marks a dead period, when coaches, players and many front-office personnel are enjoying their last break before training camp.

It's far from a dead period for the Carolina Panthers.

The transition between team founder Jerry Richardson to new owner David Tepper is expected to be completed in early July. Tepper has made several trips to the stadium to meet with players and employees since the league owners unanimously approved the sale in May.

Once the paperwork is complete, Tepper can begin making changes on the business side, although there are no indications anything significant is coming.

Within a day or so after the sale is finalized, the NFL is expected to announce the results of its investigation into Richardson for workplace sexual and racial harassment.

The investigation started in December after Sports Illustrated published an article in which four former employees revealed they received "significant" monetary settlements to keep quiet about Richardson's alleged misconduct.

The penalties could range from monetary fines, to the loss of draft picks, to nothing at all because Richardson is now a private citizen.

On the personnel side of business, general manager Marty Hurney has a few long-term decisions to make regarding right tackle Daryl Williams and wide receiver Devin Funchess, both of whom are candidates for extensions. They are both entering the final year of their contracts and would like extensions before training camp.

It could benefit the Panthers to get extensions done before they become free agents in 2019. If they follow up solid 2017 performances with better seasons, their price tags could rise to the point neither can be re-signed.

Extensions now might be tough, though, with only $7.4 million in salary-cap space (according to ESPN's Roster Management) and much of that being held aside for moves that might have to be made in training camp or during the season because of injuries.

The average salary of the top-10 right tackles ranges from $6.4 million to $11.2 million a year. Pro Football Focus ranked Williams as the top right tackle last season.

The top 18 wide receivers make an average of $10 million a year. Funchess, who had a career-best 63 catches a year ago, has a chance to put himself in that category.

So a lot is happening with the Panthers during this NFL dead time. To Tepper's credit, his meeting with team captains and other veterans immediately after the owners' vote relieved some of the uncertainty players were feeling about the transition.

Most of those players strongly supported Richardson despite the allegations against him and hated that they couldn't send him off last season with a Super Bowl title. Thomas Davis was one of the Richardson supporters, but he spoke highly of Tepper after the final practice of a mandatory minicamp two weeks ago.

"I'm definitely excited about him coming in and some of the things he was able to explain to us that he's looking forward to doing, in particular with his involvement in the community," Davis said. "So we're definitely excited about that aspect.

"Mr. Tepper comes from a winning pedigree. When you look at him being part-owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, I mean, the proof is in the pudding when you look at their history as a championship football program. So we're looking forward to him bringing that same thing here."

Tight end Greg Olsen agreed.

"With everything going on, obviously a lot of guys feel very strong about what Mr. Richardson has done for us as players, as individuals," he said. "At the same time you can also be excited about what the future holds. We don't know what that is, but the early impressions are very positive.

"Obviously, a lot [still] to play out."