The Observer's Joseph Person wrote an eye-opening look at the Panthers' salary-cap issues in today's newspaper, including the fact that the team is a reported $9.6 million over the cap and must drop that number by the start of the new NFL fiscal year on March 13th.
The first thing the Panthers must do: Figure out Thomas Davis's contract, because it absolutely won't work in the current scenario. The Panthers have a club option to pay Davis $8 million for next season by March 14th, and if you think they're going to do that, I've got a bridge in New York I'd like to sell you.
Davis is rehabbing hard and is one of the great guys in the Panthers' locker room. But the fact remains that he has torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee three times in the past 22 months. That knee is, quite literally, damaged goods until proven otherwise.
The scenario that makes the most sense is the Panthers releasing Davis and then re-signing him later for an enormous discount compared to that $8 million. They are going to have to do something like that, because as much as everyone in the organization wants Davis to succeed, there's no way to say that he will. And it's a safe maneuver, too, because what other NFL team wants to pick up a linebacker who has had three ACL tears in the same knee?
The other really interesting decision: Will the Panthers pay Jimmy Clausen a $923,000 roster bonus or cut him to save almost a million dollars?
This one is not as cut-and-dried as the Davis scenario. Cam Newton spoiled the Panthers last season by starting all 16 games, but you can't count on that every year, especially the way Newton plays. Is Clausen a viable backup? Or will the Panthers go with a veteran like Derek Anderson and cut bait with Clausen, who was pretty horrible in 2010 (going 1-9 as a starter)?
Ultimately, I think this one isn't as simple as it may seem. Because if you're not going to pay Clausen money to stay, you're going to invest similar or more money in someone else. I would imagine that coach Ron Rivera and general manager Marty Hurney will have to huddle up closely about this one.
But the Davis deal? That one is a no-brainer -- it has to be radically modified for Davis to ever play for Carolina again.