Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman said last month the biggest offseason goal was getting under the salary cap by March 12.
He beat the deadline by four days. Carolina cut Chris Gamble on Friday to get under the $123 million cap, and now the Panthers have two days to negotiate with unrestricted free agents before free agency begins in earnest around the league Tuesday.
Almost $4 million under the cap, the Panthers still need to find another $6 million to $8 million in cap space to get far enough below the cap to re-sign the players they want to keep and pick up others.
Carolina needs help from its veterans to save that money. Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil and tight end Greg Olsen have helped the team with restructured deals in the past month, and veteran left tackle Jordan Gross could be asked to do the same.
Gettleman has said he doesn’t want player cuts and restructured contracts to be quick fixes for the upcoming season. He plans to think two or three years down the road.
“You can’t just think about 2013,” he said last month in Indianapolis. “You’ve got to get beyond that. We’ve got to be thoughtful about this. With it being as flat as its been the last couple of years and people are talking it’s going to be that way for a couple more years, you’ve got to try to climb out of the hole. The only way you’re gonna do that is if you’re thoughtful.”
Carolina has 14 free agents on the roster, but special teams captain and backup linebacker Jordan Senn has already agreed to a one-year deal with the Panthers.
Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and defensive tackle Dwan Edwards are two of the top targets for the Panthers to re-sign. Munnerlyn grew more comfortable in his nickel role, and Edwards had six sacks in his first year with the Panthers.
Not as sure to re-sign with the team are backup quarterback Derek Anderson and wide receiver Louis Murphy. Former Carolina offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski’s departure to the Browns, Anderson expressed a desire to go back to the Browns. Murphy’s speed and likability in the locker room work in his favor, but there may be better options.
Here’s a look at some free agents the Panthers may go after in the coming weeks:
D.J. Moore, CB, Chicago
With the release of Gamble, the Panthers are thin at corner. Moore, a fourth-year player from Spartanburg, has 10 interceptions and two touchdowns in his career. He was told earlier this week he was not in Chicago’s future plans.
David Garrard, QB, Miami
The free-agent pool for quarterbacks is filled with backups, and Garrard, though he hasn’t played since the 2010 season, has a history with Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula. If Anderson decides to go to Cleveland, Garrard can be a cheap pick-up for Carolina.
Adrian Wilson, S, Arizona
The five-time Pro Bowler is a 12-year veteran and doesn’t have many seasons left in him. But the Panthers had a patchwork secondary for the second-half of the season, and Wilson, a former N.C. State player, will be coveted by several teams.
Ramses Barden and Domenik Hixon, WRs, N.Y. Giants
The two receivers are very familiar with Gettleman, who was the Giants director of pro personnel for 13 years. Barden torched the Panthers in Week 3 for 138 receiving yards, and either one of the players could push No. 2 WR Brandon LaFell harder than Murphy did this past season.
Chris Canty, DT, N.Y. Giants
The hometown discount may be overplayed around the NFL, but Canty told a Charlotte radio station he’d consider it if the Panthers come calling. Another player familiar with Gettleman, Canty could help middle linebacker Luke Kuechly roam.
Louis Vasquez, G, San Diego
Vasquez is a free agent after four years in San Diego. Finding more protection for quarterback Cam Newton is a top priority for Carolina, and getting Vasquez could push left guard Amini Silatolu, who is entering his second year.
Staff writer Joseph Person contributed