Wide receiver Steve Smith's extension put nearly $5 million worth of salary-cap room in the team's pocket, even as it put more money in his. The veteran wideout traded a $7.75 million base salary in 2012 for a $10 million signing bonus and a $1 million guaranteed base, with nearly another $7 million in guarantees if they pick up a $3 million option bonus in 2014 which would trigger the 2016 season.
The numbers clearly work for the receiver, but the team needed the cap room, entering the week with less than $500,000 worth of room. The new deal gives them the room to sign their draft class, with not too many other cap moves made. Guard Travelle Wharton was released and tight end Greg Olsen's deal was restructured, but otherwise the Panthers haven't pushed too many buttons this offseason.
While future cap room will be tight, they also have the bulk of their team for the next two or three years under contract.
Martin was put on notice by the free-agent signings of safeties Haruki Nakamura and Reggie Smith. Cornerback is considered something of a draft priority. As much as they like Munnerlyn's competitiveness, they'd likely prefer him to play a reduced defensive role in their nickel package, where it would he harder to create mismatches against the 5-8 former seventh-rounder. Pollak signed a one-year deal for the minimum, and could easily lose a competition for a guard job to a draft pick or holdovers Garry Williams or Byron Bell.
Otherwise, the Panthers' projected starters are inked through at least 2013, giving them less of a need for vast sums of cap room, since they aren't big believers in free agency anyway.
1. Defensive tackle: They hope getting veteran Ron Edwards back from injured reserve (torn triceps) will help, as there's some hope 2011 third-rounders Terrell McClain and Sione Fua will improve. But until the Panthers can create a reliable wave of rushers inside, their outside players have little chance.
2. Cornerback: Chris Gamble is as good as they come on one side, but the Panthers are short-handed and short on the other side. Diminutive Captain Munnerlyn and Darius Butler are both competitive, but are often physical mismatches (especially with Tampa Bay signing giant wide receiver Vincent Jackson).
3. Offensive tackle: The Panthers got by with undrafted rookie Byron Bell last year, and think Garry Williams offers something after recovering from last year's broken leg. But they need a better option if Jeff Otah checks out again.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--LB Omar Gaither was brought in as the defensive version of wide receiver Legedu Naanee, since he was familiar with defensive coordinator Sean McDermott's plan. But his play was spotty at best in 2011, and it's probably unlikely the native Charlottean will return for another year.
--CB Cletis Gordon spent the year on injured reserve and is unlikely to step foot in the place this year.
--WR Legedu Naanee was another guy who had a job based on familiarity. But there are too many younger (and likely more talented) options behind him to think they're going to bring him back as a starter.
--TE Jeremy Shockey was a key player last year, but in a cap-tight environment, paying him a rich long-term deal isn't in the plan. If he doesn't want to come back for what they offer, they'll ride with Greg Olsen and Gary Barnidge there.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--LB Thomas Williams (not tendered as ERFA) was an exciting player in preseason, and could project as a good special teamer, after spending last year on injured reserve.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS
--WR Seyi Ajirotutu: ERFA; terms unknown.
--QB Derek Anderson: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--DE Antwan Applewhite: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--FB Richie Brockel: ERFA; terms unknown.
--OG Geoff Hangartner: Potential UFA; 3 yrs, terms unknown.
--LS J.J. Jansen: Potential UFA; $3.6M/4 yrs, $500,000SB.
--LB Jason Phillips: Potential RFA; $540,000/1 yr.
--LB Jordan Senn: UFA; terms unknown.
--CB R.J. Stanford: ERFA; terms unknown.
--G/T Bruce Campbell (trade Raiders).
--PK Justin Medlock: FA; terms unknown.
--S Haruki Nakamura: UFA Ravens; $4.8M/3 yrs, $1M SB.
--LB Kenny Onatolu: Not tendered offer as RFA by Vikings; 3 yrs, terms unknown.
--G/C Mike Pollak: UFA Colts; $765,000/1 yr, $65,000 SB.
--S Reggie Smith: UFA 49ers; terms unknown.
--RB Mike Tolbert: UFA Chargers; $10M/4 yrs, $2M SB/$2.7M guaranteed.
--DE Jyles Tucker: FA; terms unknown.
--P Jason Baker (released).
--C/G Mackenzy Bernadeau: UFA Cowboys; $11M/4 yrs, $3.25M SB.
--LB Dan Connor: UFA Cowboys; $6.5M/2 yrs.
--RB Mike Goodson (traded Raiders).
--DT DeMario Pressley (released).
--OG Geoff Schwartz: Not tendered as RFA/Vikings; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--G/T Travelle Wharton (released/post-June 1 designation).
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