Carolina Panthers free safety Mike Mitchell and wide receiver Ted Ginn – the team’s top priorities among their own free agents – are expected to hit the open market Tuesday when the free agency signing period begins.
Mitchell and Ginn signed one-year deals with the Panthers last offseason and played big roles in the 12-win season that produced the Panthers’ first playoff appearance in five years.
Both players are looking to cash in on their success from 2013, but the Panthers’ salary cap situation could hinder their ability to re-sign them to long-term deals.
After defensive end Greg Hardy signed a $13.1 million franchise tender this week, the Panthers are about $7 million below the $133 million cap. Teams have to be below the cap when the league year begins at 4 p.m. Tuesday.
Mitchell, 26, was a backup in Oakland who flourished as a starter with the Panthers. He brought a physical presence to the back end of the league’s second-ranked defense, and his four interceptions tied middle linebacker Luke Kuechly for the team lead.
Mitchell is expected to draw interest from several teams during the league’s three-day negotiating window, which began at noon Saturday. The Falcons, who reportedly plan to release safety Thomas DeCoud, could be among the suitors for Mitchell.
The Panthers have a fall-back option on their roster in safety Charles Godfrey, who missed most of last season after rupturing his Achilles in Week 2. Godfrey was thought to be a potential salary cap casualty, but the Panthers could try to restructure his deal if it looks like they can’t re-sign Mitchell.
Ginn, 28, had a career resurgence last season after a couple of forgettable years in San Francisco. Ginn, Miami’s first-round pick in 2007, posted career highs with five touchdown catches and a 15.4 yards-per-catch average as Cam Newton’s favorite deep target.
Ginn also gave the Panthers a big-play threat in their return game, which is among the reasons the Panthers view him as a priority.
The Panthers have 18 remaining free agents, several of whom they would like to bring back on a short, team-friendly deals. That list includes starting cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, No. 2 tight end Ben Hartsock and backup quarterback Derek Anderson.
Munnerlyn, who returned to the Panthers on a one-year deal last season, told the Observer last month he thought he had one of his best years in 2013 and thought it was “shocking” the team had not contacted him about an extension.
Four of the Panthers’ top defensive backs from last season eligible for free agency: Mitchell, Munnerlyn, cornerback Drayton Florence and strong safety Quintin Mikell.
Florence and Mikell are both 33 and are not considered priorities for the Panthers.
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