Breaking down Panthers' spending spree

BUFORD, Ga. -- I just arrived here to be in position to visit the Atlanta Falcons when they return to training camp Thursday. For those who don’t recognize the dateline, Buford is the town next to Flowery Branch, which isn’t exactly filled with a slew of hotel options.

I’ve got a couple of things I want to share with you. Through the wildest free-agency period in NFL history, we in the media have done a great job of quickly reporting signings and throwing out only the quick basics on contracts (years, total value and guaranteed money).

But sometimes when you see the actual breakdown of a contract, there’s much more (or sometimes less) to it than initially meets the eye. I’ve got the breakdown of the new contract Charles Johnson signed with the Panthers and also on the extension linebacker Jon Beason signed with Carolina.

Let’s start with Johnson’s deal because it’s massive and somewhat complex. It’s for six years and could be worth up to $76 million. It includes a $30 million signing bonus and a guaranteed $4 million base salary for this season. In short, Johnson’s hauling in $34 million this year.

In 2012, Johnson’s base salary will increase to $4.75 million and $2 million of that becomes guaranteed if he’s on the roster on Feb. 15, 2012, which seems a certainty. Johnson also is scheduled to earn a $250,000 bonus for taking part in offseason workouts in 2012 and for each of the remaining years on his deal.

In 2013, Johnson’s base salary jumps to $6.75 million. In 2014, it goes to $8.75 million. In 2015, Johnson is scheduled to earn $9.75 million. The final year of the deal is 2016 and Johnson is scheduled to earn $10.75 million.

There are a lot of people around the league who are suggesting the Panthers overpaid for a defensive end who has had precisely one good year. The Panthers won’t even dispute that they at least understand that perception.

But the real thinking in making this offer to Johnson was motivated by the division-rival Atlanta Falcons. The Panthers firmly believed the Falcons were going to make a very strong run at Johnson, who is a Georgia native. After letting Julius Peppers walk in free agency last year, the Panthers realized there was no way they could afford to lose Johnson, especially to a team that they face twice every year.

The Panthers knew they had to blow Atlanta’s offer out of the water and they did.

Now, let’s examine Beason’s contract. It’s a five-year extension for a player who already was under contract for this season. Beason’s deal now runs through 2016 and could be worth up to $51.6 million. Beason’s base salary for this season is $1.04 million, but he got a $20 million signing bonus.

In 2012, his base salary will be $1.25 million and he has a $250,000 workout bonus for every year on his contract after this one. In 2013, Beason’s base will jump to $5.25 million. In 2014, he’s scheduled to make $6.5 million.

Beason is scheduled to earn $7.5 million in 2015 and $8.5 million in 2016. The Panthers weren’t required to do this deal right away, but they made a smart move. Beason is the unquestioned leader of this defense and it made total sense to make sure he never got close to becoming a free agent next year.

Owner Jerry Richardson’s been accused of being cheap the last couple of years and there’s truth in that. But you can’t call Richardson cheap after what he’s already done this year.

Heck, let’s even throw in one kicker to all this. The Panthers added kicker Olindo Mare to a deal that’s pretty large. Mare’s four-year deal is worth up to $12 million. He got a $4 million signing bonus and will make $1 million in base salary this season. He’s scheduled to make $2.1 million in base salary in 2012 and a $100,000 workout bonus in each of the last three seasons on his contract.

In 2013, Mare’s scheduled to make $2.2 million and that figure jumps to $2.4 million in 2014. By the way, I don't have full contract numbers on the deals given to linebackers James Anderson and Thomas Davis just yet, but I hope to get them and share them with you in a few days. However, I'm told the Davis deal has some built-in protection for the team in case Davis isn't able to come back and be the same player he was before twice tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in less than a year.