After a very productive opening to free agency, the Panthers still have a little cash to spend.
According to the latest NFLPA public cap projections, Carolina has about $11.6 million in salary cap space.
This includes the approximate $13.5 million franchise tag that defensive end Kawann Short is expected to sign – which essentially is equivalent to the carryover of unspent money from 2016.
That number also only includes the top 51 salaries for roster players, so will ultimately be a little less than $11.6 million because the Panthers have 77 salaried contracts according to the NFLPA (some of them relatively small).
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Salary structures can vary, especially with many modern contracts being light on the front end as the cap – set this year at $167 million – is expected to continue to increase. It has gone up by about $12 million each year since 2015 and by at least $10 million per year since 2014.
Even with lighter front-end contracts, a workable $11.6 million is unlikely to pull in any more big-name free agents for the Panthers. But those contracts give Carolina a little wiggle room when signing its 2017 draft picks – including No. 8 overall.
With the No. 8 overall pick in 2016, Tennessee Titans tackle Jack Conklin, the base salary was structured to be smaller up front with a large signing bonus prorated over the four years of his contract.
Conklin signed a four-year, $15.8 million contract with Tennessee with a $9.7 million signing bonus, according to Spotrac. But his base salary in 2016 was $450,000, and with the addition of a quarter of his signing bonus, $2.4 million, his cap hit was a very reasonable $2.8 million in 2016. Conklin’s base salary increases each year while his signing bonus is spaced out evenly, ultimately allowing him to earn a guaranteed $15.4 million with Tennessee by 2021, when he is eligible for free agency.
Carolina will probably manage its own No. 8 pick in similar fashion. The only question left is who that pick will be.