Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman had to do a lot of cleaning up of what he calls the salary cap “mess” he inherited when he was hired two years ago.
That belt-tightening has left the Panthers in a position where they will have to significantly increase their payroll over the next two years to meet the thresholds established in the 2011 collective bargaining agreement.
Only the Oakland Raiders spent less against the salary cap than the Panthers for the 2013-14 seasons, according to figures compiled by the NFL Players Association.
But with big-dollar contracts for quarterback Cam Newton and linebacker Luke Kuechly on the horizon, Gettleman says the Panthers won’t have a problem meeting the minimum spending levels by the 2016 deadline.
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The CBA requires teams to spend 89 percent of the salary cap in cash over two different four-year spans, beginning with the period from 2013-2016.
The Panthers spent 80.8 percent of the salary cap over the past two years, according to data provided by the NFLPA. Only the Raiders (80.2 percent) spent less on player salaries.
Gettleman cut salaries and restructured the contracts of a number of well-paid veterans during his first two years in Charlotte to give the Panthers some breathing room under the cap and clear space for the lucrative deals coming for the likes of Newton and Kuechly.
The Panthers spent $112.9 million in 2013 during Gettleman’s first season when the cap was $123 million, according to the NFLPA.
With the release of receiver Steve Smith, the retirement of offensive tackle Jordan Gross and the departure of several players via free agency, Carolina’s payroll dropped to $93.9 million last season, when the cap was $133 million.
The Panthers would have to spend about $142 million this year against a cap the NFLA projects will be $143 million to reach the 89 percent threshold in 2015.
Teams that don’t hit the 89 percent mark by 2016 will owe the difference to the union, which can distribute the money to former and current players on the affected clubs.
According to USA Today, 10 teams underspent in the past two years.
The top two spenders for 2013-2014 were Green Bay (116.0 percent) and Atlanta (109.1). The Packers and Falcons signed quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan to long-term contract extensions in 2013 – a fact Gettleman referred to when asked about the Panthers’ spending last week at the scouting combine.
“Right now, if we continue the pace we’re on, we won’t meet that four-year threshold. If you look at the teams that are over, those are the teams that had big-ticket guys that they thought they had to drop dimes on,” Gettleman said. “I think we got some big-ticket guys that will get us up there.”
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The NFL’s labor agreement requires teams to spend 89 percent of the salary cap in cash over the four-year period from 2013-16. Halfway to the deadline, the Panthers and nine other teams have fallen short of the benchmark. A look at the teams’ spending in 2013-14 as a percentage of the salary cap (which was a combined $256 million the past two years):
Oakland – 80.2 percent
Carolina – 80.8 percent
N.Y. Jets – 81.2 percent
Jacksonville – 82.2 percent
Dallas – 82.6 percent
New England – 82.7 percent
New Orleans – 86.2 percent
Washington – 87 percent
N.Y. Giants – 87.9 percent
Pittsburgh – 88.3 percent
Source: USA Today