The Carolina Panthers cut Chris Gamble on Friday in a long-anticipated move that got them under the salary cap but left the team without its best cornerback.
Gamble played nine seasons in Charlotte and is still a capable cover corner when healthy. But he’s missed time due to injuries in two of the past three seasons and had a $10.9 million cap figure that led to his release.
Accounting for the accelerated bonus money over the final two years of Gamble’s deal, the Panthers freed up $7.9 million in cap space with the move. It put them about $4 million under the $123 million cap – four days before Tuesday’s deadline for teams to be below it.
The Panthers are expected to ask a couple of veterans – left tackle Jordan Gross is a likely candidate – to restructure their contracts to clear more cap space for the free agency period. Center Ryan Kalil and tight end Greg Olsen re-worked their deals this winter, and veteran defensive tackle Ron Edwards was cut last week.
But the biggest cut – in terms of how it impacted the Panthers’ cap situation and their roster – came Friday.
Gamble is the franchise leader with 27 career interceptions, and his 117 regular-season starts are the most by a cornerback in team history.
The Panthers could lose their two most experienced corners. Captain Munnerlyn, an unrestricted free agent, said this week he wants to stay with Carolina, but is uncertain whether he will be re-signed.
Under the league’s new, three-day negotiating window, teams could begin negotiating with free agents at 12 a.m. Saturday. They can’t sign free agents until the start of the new league year at 4 p.m. Tuesday.
Gamble, a first-round pick from Ohio State in 2004, proved two years ago he can still be a dependable corner. A year after falling out of favor with former coach John Fox, Gamble played well in 2011 when coach Ron Rivera and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott assigned him to the opponent’s No. 1 receiver each week.
The analysis site ProFootballFocus.com rated Gamble as the league’s second most effective corner in 2011, allowing a reception once out of every 18.1 snaps in coverage. Philadelphia’s Nnamdi Asomugha had the best ratio with a catch allowed every 18.4 snaps.
But Gamble, who turns 30 on Monday, played in only four games in 2012 before a torn labrum ended his season.
“I appreciate the contributions of Chris during my first two years as head coach and to the organization for many years,” Rivera said in a release. “He always handled things the right way and we wish him the best.”
Attempts to reach Gamble for comment through his agent were unsuccessful. That’s not surprising: Gamble avoided publicity throughout his nine years in Charlotte and always made himself scarce during the team’s open locker room period.
Gamble never made a Pro Bowl, but he was a starter from the moment the Panthers drafted him 28th overall in 2004. He was the third-longest tenured player on the team, behind wideout Steve Smith and Gross.
He led or tied for the team lead in interceptions in six of his nine seasons, and his 326 interception return yards rank second in club history behind Mike Minter’s 421 yards.
Gamble joins a crowded market of free-agent corners, a group that includes Charles Woodson, Aqib Talib, Sean Smith, Chris Houston and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. With a glut of veteran corners, the Panthers likely will try to land one at a discount to pair with their young corners.
If Munnerlyn does not return, Carolina would have three corners with two years of experience or less – Josh Thomas, Josh Norman and James Dockery. Norman, a fifth-round pick last year, started the first 12 games as a rookie before losing his spot to Thomas.