Notebook: Panthers willing to slow-play free agency

Scott Fitterer and David Tepper at the 2021 Senior Bowl.
Scott Fitterer and David Tepper at the 2021 Senior Bowl.

CHARLOTTE – Even if Panthers head coach Matt Rhule wanted to undergo a massive overhaul this offseason, he's not necessarily in a position to.

Rhule made it clear Wednesday that the Panthers still aren't in the type of salary cap position to be heavy spenders in free agency when it begins next week.

"We're not just one player away," Rhule said. "We're in a situation where we have to keep building our team. Like I said earlier with the cap situation, we have to be really targeted."

They actually have a little more room than they originally had, thanks to Rhule breaking a little news.

He casually mentioned during his video conference that running back Christian McCaffrey and linebacker Shaq Thompson had restructured their contracts (moves that cleared another $11 million worth of cap space).

That's still not a bounty. The Panthers were around $30 million under before tagging right tackle Taylor Moton (for nearly $14 million), and they have to hold back an amount for signing their draft picks, plus leave some room in case of injuries or to make other moves in-season.

As we noted Wednesday morning, there are still some moves to be made (they need help on the offensive line, as well as defensive tackle, linebacker, cornerback, tight end and other spots), but those are going to be more surgical strikes in a depressed market rather than splurges.

With the league's salary cap going from $198.2 million last year to $182.5 million this year, plenty of free agents are going to be squeezed, and many expect a lot of one-year deals. The opportunity for bargains exists, if you're willing to wait.

That sounds like general manager Scott Fitterer's strategy, in a nutshell.

"We'll talk to a lot of agents starting on Monday and see where the market is," Fitterer said. "However, I think this might be one of those years where if you just wait and are patient, you might be able to get quite a few players in that middle class who get pinched by the cap this year.

"Even though we've created a lot of cap room, this is not a year we're going to go wild spending money. We're going to be very judicious in how we go about this."

NEWSBREAKER

In addition to dropping the news of the restructures by McCaffrey and Thompson, Rhule mentioned a few other nuggets.

He acknowledged the pending release of safety Tre Boston and the re-signing of veteran long snapper J.J. Jansen (moves that won't go through until the start of the new league year).

"About J.J., I don't know if it's official yet, but we're expecting it to be official," Rhule said. "I'll say, I never worry about the snap on a kick or a punt. He's just tremendously dependable. He's also a great guy to have in the locker room, a great guy to have in terms of the special teams units, so he's a tremendous guy to have back."

EXTRA PICKS

The Panthers picked up a pair of extra draft picks Wednesday, thanks to last year's free agency losses.

They added a pair of sixth-rounders, the 221st and 225th overall.

Comp picks are awarded on a secret and complicated formula based on net losses in unrestricted free agency. The losses of offensive tackle Daryl Williams and defensive tackle Vernon Butler created the extra picks, since other signings last year negated other losses.

The Panthers are without their seventh-rounder this year. It belongs to Buffalo, from the 2018 trade with Buffalo for offensive tackle Marshall Newhouse.

That gives them eight total picks, beginning with the eighth overall in the first round.

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