Carolina Panthers release 3 players to increase cap space to $28.5 million

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers cleared $19.9 million in salary-cap space this week with the release of four players, including three on Friday.

The release of Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kawann Short on Wednesday and of defensive end Stephen Weatherly, safety Tre Boston and punter Michael Palardy on Friday improved the team's cap space to $28.473 million heading into the start of free agency next month. Boston's release won't be official until the league year starts March 17, with a post-June 1 designation, according to a source.

The moves more than doubled Carolina's cap space, which was around $8.5 million after the 2020 season, according to ESPN's Roster Management System.

The Panthers cleared $8.66 million with the release of Short, $5.906 million with Weatherly, $3.55 million with Boston and $1.787 million with Palardy.

According to a league source, the moves were made specifically because of cap space and dead money. Even before Boston's release, the Panthers led the league with $22.6 million in dead money.

The moves brought a team strapped for cap room to near the top 10 teams in the league in cap space.

That's important for a team looking to upgrade at quarterback and rebuild the offensive line.

Before the moves, Carolina -- according to league sources -- offered Detroit the No. 8 pick, a fifth-round pick and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater for quarterback Matthew Stafford. The Lions ultimately traded with the Rams.

The Panthers, per a source, plan to make a strong run at Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson if the Texans grant the former Clemson star his wish to be traded.

Watson is set to count $15.94 million against the 2021 cap, then jump to $40.4 million in 2022.

With center Matt Paradis the only starting offensive lineman currently under contract, the additional cap space frees Carolina to use the franchise tag on right tackle Taylor Moton if a long-term deal can't be reached before the league's new year begins.

A tag on Moton would cost around $13.6 million now that the league has reset the cap at $180 million.

The release of Short made sense because of his age (32) and his 2021 cap number of more than $20 million, second on the team behind Bridgewater's $23 million hit.

Weatherly didn't live up to expectations after signing a two-year, $12.5 million deal last year as a free agent following four years in Minnesota. Carolina plans to use 2020 second-round pick Yetur Gross-Matos as the starter opposite Brian Burns.

Palardy spent last season on the non-football injury list, and the Panthers were happy with the performance of undrafted Joseph Charlton, who has a cap figure of only $780,000.