While the Carolina Panthers are in talks to upgrade their stadium, they also need to figure out who will play in it next season. The team is more than $10 million over next year’s league-wide salary cap. That means dropping expensive players and reworking contracts to get below the cap by March 12.
The conventional wisdom is the team will start by cutting cornerback Chris Gamble, because the team can save about $8 million. Aaron Schatz, the editor in chief of Football Outsiders—a football analysis website known for its advanced statistics—says that makes sense financially, but could hurt on the field.
“In 2011, he actually was one of the top corners in the league by our game charting stats that year,” says Schatz.
While Gamble may be part of the fallout, Schatz says the Panthers are just fundamentally giving big contracts to the wrong people.
“The biggest problem with this team is that they pay big money to two running backs and, frankly, the best thing to do in the modern NFL is to pay big money to zero running backs,” says Schatz. “The fact is most running backs are interchangeable unless you have a truly transcendent player like an Adrian Peterson. So, the first thing they need to do is cut one of those running backs, probably DeAngelo Williams.”
Williams is the franchise’s all-time leading rusher, as well as the fourth highest-paid player on the team, in the third year of a $43 million contract, according to Spottrac, an online database of sports contracts. Over the last few years Williams has split snaps with Jonathan Stewart.
The way his contract is structured, even if Williams is released, the team will owe him a few million dollars, which will count against the cap. Schatz says that’s another systemic problem for the team.
“They’ve historically had a tendency to overvalue keeping their own players,” says Schatz.
In 2011, the Panthers made linebacker Jon Beason the highest-paid player in the league at his position. One game later, a torn Achilles tendon put him out for the season. He played five more games last year, before knee and shoulder injuries landed him on the injured reserve list. Beason almost certainly will not make the cut list, though, because the Panthers still owe him about $10 million in guaranteed money.