Carolina's nightmare cap situation

We took a look at the New Orleans Saints’ salary-cap situation. It’s far from ideal, but at least the Saints have some obvious ways to free up cap space.

But I’m now looking at the numbers for the Carolina Panthers, and it sure looks like they’re in a much worse situation than the Saints. There simply aren’t a lot of easy escape routes for the Panthers.

I don’t know if former general manager Marty Hurney deserves all the blame or if he was acting on orders from above, but the contracts given to guys like DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Steve Smith, Jon Beason, James Anderson and Charles Godfrey in recent years have left the Panthers in a real salary-cap mess.

Whoever ends up as the new general manager is going to have his hands tied in a lot of ways, because most of those contracts include so much guaranteed in base salaries and so much pro-rated money that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to get out from under some of the team’s biggest contracts by releasing players.

The Panthers would lose cap space if they released Smith, Stewart or Godfrey. They’d basically break even on Anderson.

Beason and Williams could be candidates for release, but only if the Panthers designated them as June 1 cuts and spread their cap hit over two years, instead of one.

The Panthers currently have $136 million committed toward a 2013 salary cap that is expected to be slightly more than $120 million. Let’s look at some guys who could be on the cap bubble.

Beason: The logical scenario for him is a contract restructure to knock his cap figure down. Beason currently has a $9.5 million cap figure and $3.75 million of his $5.25 base salary for this year is guaranteed. Beason also has $12 million in outstanding pro-rated money.

Williams: He has an $8.2 cap figure. He also has $9.6 million in outstanding pro-rated money. They only way the Panthers would benefit from releasing him would be to designate him as a June 1 cut and take a $4.8 million hit for him this year and the same in 2014.

Chris Gamble: It’s sad to say, but the Panthers almost have to cut their best cornerback, because he can provide more cap relief than anyone on the roster. Gamble has a $10.9 million cap figure. The Panthers could free up $7.9 million by releasing him.

Jordan Gross: The Panthers could clear up $6.7 million by releasing him, but I don’t think that’s practical. Do you really want to leave Cam Newton without a left tackle to protect his blind side. Good left tackles usually don’t hit the free-agent market, and the Panthers have too many other needs to use their first draft pick on a left tackle. They can restructure Gross and knock his $11.7 million cap figure down a good bit.

Ron Edwards: The aging and often-injured defensive tackle almost certainly will be gone. The Panthers instantly would clear $2.5 million by releasing him.

Jimmy Clausen: A lot of people assume the third-string quarterback will be gone. But there is no cap space to be gained by releasing Clausen, because his base salary ($575,000) is guaranteed and he still has $322,500 in pro-rated money. Besides, backup Derek Anderson is scheduled to become a free agent. The Panthers aren’t going to have the room to re-sign him. They might as well keep Clausen and bump him up to No. 2 on the depth chart.

Haruki Nakamura: The Panthers signed him as a free agent in 2012, and Nakamaura didn’t really work out. The Panthers could free up $1.8 million by releasing him.

The bottom line here is the Panthers are in a brutal spot. They're not going to be able to do much of anything to improve themselves in free agency. They're going to be subtracting from their roster, and the only viable way to add to it will be through the draft.