SPARTANBURG, S.C. — The Panthers went from the outhouse to the penthouse - at least in terms of money spent - in less than a week.
And though it might take a couple of years to learn whether their spending spree and commitment to their core results in more wins and playoff appearances, the team's strategy was hailed by a couple of former NFL executives.
After dumping Jake Delhomme's contract and other "dead money" during the uncapped year of 2010, the Panthers opened their wallets in a free-agent flurry that saw them commit more than $272 million to nine players, more than half of them home-grown.
"Does anybody feel just a little bad about calling me cheap last year? Just a smidgen?" Panthers owner Jerry Richardson asked reporters Wednesday after an appearance by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell at the Panthers' training camp.
"The facts are we did exactly what we said we were going to do," Richardson said. "What really precipitated this is we hadn't had back-to-back winning seasons. What we were doing wasn't working. And we wanted to attempt to go young, (re-sign) our own players.
"We kept every one of our key, core players, which is remarkable to me. I would assume some of them would have gone somewhere else."
The Panthers locked up three of their free agents - defensive end Charles Johnson, tailback DeAngelo Williams and linebacker James Anderson - and extended the contracts of Pro Bowl linebacker Jon Beason and outside linebacker Thomas Davis.
They also brought in free agents Olindo Mare and Ron Edwards, traded for Chicago tight end Greg Olsen and signed the No. 1 overall pick to a $22 million, four-year contract. Cam Newton's deal was a bargain compared to the deal given to 2010 top pick Sam Bradford because of the rookie wage scale that is part of the new collective bargaining agreement.
The Panthers were an estimated $50 million below the salary cap coming out of the lockout. Last week's signings put them among seven teams currently over the $120 million cap, according to a report by Pro Football Talk.
Citing an anonymous source with knowledge of the cap numbers, Pro Football Talk reported the Panthers are $939,000 over the cap, well below teams such as Oakland ($17.3 million) and Pittsburgh ($11.5 million) relative to the cap.
The Panthers have several ways to free up cap space. General manager Marty Hurney has said he hopes the team extends center Ryan Kalil, who is due to make more than $10 million this year after the Panthers placed a franchise tag on him.
Andrew Brandt, a former Green Bay executive who is ESPN's NFL business analyst, said the Panthers' decision to part with about a dozen veterans before the 2010 season - widely criticized by fans - was sound strategy.
"I've always talked about the Panthers as a team that used 2010 and the anomaly system that it was that year as a get-back year, where they could get their costs under control, pay down a few debts and prepare themselves for the system," Brandt said. "And it feels like that did happen and is happening as their costs have been steadily increasing based on the events of last week."
CBS analyst Charley Casserly, a former general manager in Washington and Houston, credited the Panthers for following through with their intentions.
"Every team has a plan. Sometimes that plan doesn't last 24 hours," Casserly said. "In the Panthers' case, they had a plan and went out and stuck to it and executed it. And that's a credit to Jerry Richardson freeing up the money and Marty Hurney getting the contracts done."
Brandt said the contract that "jumped off the page" was the six-year, $76 million deal given to Johnson, who had 11.5 sacks in 2010 after Julius Peppers left for Chicago.
Noting Johnson plays a high-impact position, Brandt said it was tough to say whether the Panthers overspent for him.
RON GREEN JR. CONTRIBUTED