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).
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.