The Panthers made their first big trim Tuesday as free agency began, releasing steady offensive line starter Travelle Wharton. He started every game at left guard last year but the Panthers apparently plan to replace him more cheaply with veteran guard Geoff Hangartner, who signed a new three-year contract that should be much cheaper.
Wharton will and should find work somewhere else. He's 30 -- which is fairly old but not ancient for an offensive lineman -- and he's a class guy. Wharton was one of those players you like on your team -- never involved in any controversy, no injury issues like Jeff Otah and versatile enough to play guard or tackle. He started 99 games in eight years with Carolina.
But ultimately a good contract caught up to him. Wharton's cap number was too high -- that's all this was. He was set to make $5.7 million in base salary this year and have a cap figure of $7.6 mililon. The Panthers cleared more than $3.8 million in cap space by releasing him.
In the NFL, you pay big money for your left tackle (to protect the quarterback's blind side). Your right tackle and center are also worthy investments, particularly if they are Pro Bowl caliber like Ryan Kalil. But guards are traditionally the place where teams try to get away with a lower-paid player unless the guy is one of the best 3-4 in the NFL at the position. The Panthers have occasionally tried to pay big money to a guard -- anyone remember Mike Wahle? -- and it has rarely seemed to work out.
So this was a necessary move for Carolina, but a tough one. I wish Wharton, the former South Carolina Gamecock, well and imagine he will be on another team's roster before long, because that huge cap number fortunately won't follow him elsewhere.
The Panthers have also reworked Thomas Davis's deal, which they had to do (according to a report by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas). Davis's reworking will save the team another $3.8 million off this year's salary cap.
On a totally different note, here's my column for Wednesday's newspaper about the joy of last-second shots in basketball -- even one shot in particular that I'm sure you never saw.