Scott Fowler

Panthers’ negotiations with Kawann Short must not follow the Josh Norman playbook

Seeking a new contract, Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short is skipping the Panthers’ voluntary workouts this week. This photograph was taken in 2015.
Seeking a new contract, Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short is skipping the Panthers’ voluntary workouts this week. This photograph was taken in 2015. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

What is happening right now with Carolina Panthers star defensive tackle Kawann Short is harmless.

But if this turns into another Josh Norman contract situation – which ended up with the Pro Bowl cornerback leaving for Washington – it will be very harmful.

Short isn’t showing up anymore for the Panthers’ organized team activities, which are voluntary but as a general rule are attended by almost everyone – including Short until last week. After obliterating a team record for sacks in a season by a defensive tackle with 11 in 2015, Short obviously is sending a message about wanting a lucrative new contract.

And the Panthers? They aren’t ripping Short for suddenly deciding to skip OTAs. But they are also taking pains to note he is already under contract and that he is expected to be at the team’s mandatory minicamp next week (although if I had to bet, I’d guess that Short isn’t going to show up).

So who’s right? Who’s wrong? Let’s blast somebody!

Actually, it’s not that simple.

Panthers, Short must compromise

The Panthers are well within their rights to be good stewards of their salary cap. Short is well within his rights to use what little leverage he has to try and force the team to pay him the most he can get after he thoroughly outplayed his contract in 2015.

But what is very clear is that if this turns into a Josh Norman situation – or, for longtime fans of the Panthers, a Kevin Greene situation – then it’s “Houston, we have a problem” time.

Houston is the site of the 51st Super Bowl on Feb. 5, 2017. The Panthers earned a spot in the most recent Super Bowl, but they will find it very tough to get there again if they are without their best defensive lineman.

They can’t get in a salary snit with Short and let him walk. When you draft somebody this good at this important of a position, you must keep him around. If you have to overpay him slightly to do so? Hey, Jerry Richardson has plenty of money.

But as for Short, he must give a little, too. Surely it’s not that important to be known as the highest-paid defensive tackle in the league. When it comes right down to it, what’s the difference between $13 million and $15 million a year?

Short can’t get caught up in the ego part of “Who makes more than me?” If you can get an eight-figure deal per year in a nice city where you like your colleagues and have done great work already, just take that deal.

Ideally, the Panthers and Joel Segal, who is Short’s agent, would work all this out before training camp begins in late July.

But if no extension gets done, surely Short won’t hold out of training camp, right?! Right?

If Short actually holds out of games, he wouldn’t get paid at all in 2016. And he couldn’t play for anybody else, either.

Yet you never know. It’s certainly happened before, in numerous NFL cities with numerous NFL players. Kevin Greene held out in Carolina in 1997 for more money and, after some fireworks, ended up playing that season for San Francisco.

A delicate situation

Contract negotiations can quickly go north or south. That’s why it’s not surprising that when I contacted both Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman and Segal on Tuesday about the situation, both politely declined to comment.

The Panthers extended the contracts of quarterback Cam Newton, linebacker Luke Kuechly, tight end Greg Olsen and linebacker Thomas Davis last year with the kind of harmony you usually see only in a barbershop quartet hired by Ryan Kalil.

But in April, after Norman and his agent made what the Panthers thought was way too high of a contract demand, Carolina rescinded the franchise tag it had placed on Norman. I still think that was a mistake. Norman quickly skedaddled to Washington, where he got the money he was seeking.

Now Carolina didn’t let Norman leave because the Panthers are cheap. In 2010, yes, the Panthers were. In 2016, absolutely not.

But Gettleman is also his own man. He will go against the grain in a heartbeat, which is why he let a cornerback in his prime walk away but also why he has found free-agent jewels like Michael Oher and Kurt Coleman.

Short could conceivably follow the same playbook as Norman. He could bet on himself and play out his rookie contract in 2016 – he is scheduled to make just over $1 million – and then become an unrestricted free agent. Carolina then could and surely would franchise-tag him. Short could then demand huge money, maybe $18 million a year, hoping that Gettleman would elect to cut the cord instead.

That is a bad scenario for everyone involved. Far better for the Panthers and Short’s agent to each give a little, get this deal done and avoid a Norman repeat.

As anyone who has ever been around the mercurial cornerback knows, there is only one Josh Norman.

The Short negotiations absolutely cannot go down that same path.

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