A closer look at Carolina's salary-cap room

The NFL will announce the 2014 salary cap within the next few days, possibly as early as today, and the reported available cap space for the Carolina Panthers has been all over the place.

So after consulting with ESPN's top cap gurus, here's what I came up with for Carolina.

The Panthers currently are approximately $18.3 million under the cap with an early conservative estimation of a $126 million cap. If the league bumps the cap to between $132 million and $133 million as was reported last week, that'll add approximately another $6 million to the total.

So Carolina is looking at about $24 million in cap space to sign its own free agents and those from other teams.

Recent restructures to the deals of center Ryan Kalil, running back Jonathan Stewart and linebacker Thomas Davis helped significantly. Kalil's cap number dropped from $10.4 million to $7,284,000. Stewart's dropped from $5,496,250 to $4,585,000. Davis' dropped from $5,816,666 to $3,566,666.

That's a combined savings of just under $6.3 million.

It would help even more if Carolina could get defensive end Charles Johnson's $16.4 million cap number reduced.

Clearing this room should help keep defensive end Greg Hardy, one of the team's 20 remaining free agents now that left tackle Jordan Gross has retired.

The team has until 4 p.m. ET on Monday if it decides to use the franchise tag on its sack leader. The $12 million hit would be a bargain compared to what Hardy likely will get in the open market.

Coach Ron Rivera wouldn't say on Wednesday whether the team has notified quarterback Cam Newton's representatives that they plan to activate the 2011 draft pick's fifth-year option.

The Panthers have until May 3 to make that notification. It makes little sense to do it until closer to that date because the team would be responsible for about $15 million in 2015 if Newton were to suffer a career-ending injury between now and May.

In all likelihood, Carolina will have to exercise that option eventually to give it more time to extend Newton's deal long-term. The team can continue to negotiate after exercising the extension, and it has more immediate needs to take care of in free agency.

As Rivera said on Wednesday, there are a lot of moving parts.