The Carolina Panthers picked up $14 million in salary cap space Wednesday with their decision to rescind the franchise tag on Pro Bowl cornerback Josh Norman.
And while the move left the Panthers $32 million below the cap, it’s unlikely they’ll be spending much of the extra money on a replacement for Norman – at least not on a free agent.
The list of available corners has thinned considerably since the start of free agency six weeks ago, leaving the Panthers to pick through an assortment of older players or smallish corners who don’t fit the team’s profile at the position.
Veterans Leon Hall, Antonio Cromartie and Jerraud Powers are among the corners still unsigned. Cromartie, 32, tweeted his interest in the Panthers last month, but the feeling apparently wasn’t mutual as there were no known talks between Carolina and the former Jet.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera and secondary coach Steve Wilks were in San Diego when Cromartie played for the Chargers. That familiarity could prompt the Panthers to reach out to Cromartie, a four-time Pro Bowler who started 15 games with New York last season.
Hall, 31, was a full-time starter for eight of his nine seasons in Cincinnati, but is recovering from offseason back surgery to repair a disc injury that required epidurals late last season, according to a report.
Powers, 28, started 13 games last year for Arizona and met with the Cardinals last week. At 5-9 and 190 pounds, Powers is smaller than what defensive coordinator Sean McDermott generally prefers at the position.
The Panthers signed free agent cornerback Brandon Boykin last month, although the former Steeler is expected to play primarily nickel against slot receivers.
Boykin joined returning corners Bené Benwikere, Robert McClain and Lou Young on the Carolina roster. Benwikere, a third-year player, is shifting from nickel to outside corner after he recovers from a broken leg that sidelined him at the end of last season.
It’s likely the Panthers will make cornerback a focus in next week’s draft.
Most draft analysts have speculated Carolina general manager Dave Gettleman would go after a pass rusher with the 30th pick. But at some point next week Gettleman almost certainly has to draft a corner, and maybe two.
With Norman’s $13.95 million tag coming off the Panthers’ books, only San Francisco ($52.6 million), Jacksonville ($52.5 million) and Cleveland ($40 million) have more available cap space than Carolina.
Defensive tackles Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei could be the beneficiaries of that windfall. Getting Short locked up with a long-term deal this summer before the final year of his rookie deal is a priority.
Gettleman said last month the Panthers will exercise the fifth-year option on Lotulelei. But they now could be inclined to Lotulelei to an extension as well.