The Carolina Panthers have done some clever restructuring of running back DeAngelo Williams’ contract, virtually assuring the franchise’s all-time leading rusher will at least be on the roster in 2013 and quite possibly the next two seasons as well.
By reducing Williams’ salary-cap number, the Panthers are now $8.46 million under their adjusted 2013 salary cap number of $126.232 million – these numbers were first reported by Yahoo Sports.
So what do you spend more than $8 million on in the NFL?
Actually, a fair amount of this money will be eaten up when the Panther sign their five draft picks – that’s why having some flexibility this time of year is so important. And it is also important to plan ahead for the inevitable monstrous contract extension offer Cam Newton -- who is signed through the 2014 season under relatively modest rookie contract terms -- is going to receive sometime in the next 6-18 months.
But the two places I would look hardest if I were GM Dave Gettleman right now would be on the offensive line and in the defensive backfield. He should use this savings to upgrade at least one of those positions. I’m not at all convinced the Panthers have quite enough depth (particularly at safety and at offensive tackle, two positions they were not able to address in the draft).
There’s no doubt the Panthers have already overspent at running back, but Gettleman inherited those contracts. He didn’t write them. Williams is getting huge money and only played slightly more than 40 percent of the offensive snaps last year. But in his final game of the season, he also set the franchise’s all-time record with 210 rushing yards in only 21 carries vs. New Orleans. In that game, he ripped off runs of 54 and 65 yards. Williams still has some burst.
Former Panther GM Marty Hurney gave Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert combined contracts worth north of $100 million. And then Cam Newton led the team in rushing in 2012 – the first quarterback to do so since Donovan McNabb in 2000.
So all this is not ideal, but Gettleman is doing his best with the cards he has been dealt. Williams, now 30 years old, doesn’t have tremendous trade value. This contract restructuring makes it far more palatable to keep him (and tough to release him because of the way the "dead money" would kick in earlier). And the running back position is fraught with the possibility of injury on every play, so having quantity at the position as well as quality is a good idea. I think the Panthers made a good move by restructuring Williams, but to turn it into a great one they have to spend the money they saved very wisely.