CHARLOTTE – In about 10 days, the Panthers must cut more than 40 percent of the players currently on the 90-man roster, trimming down to 53 players for the regular season.
Will they keep nine offensive linemen or 10? Six linebackers or seven?
A lot remains up in the air, but this much is a certainty: Carolina will keep only one punter.
"It's a very cutthroat business because you have 32 teams and 32 punters – and there are no backups," punter Michael Palardy said. "The result is out of my control."
The Panthers actually had two punters last season, but not at the same time. They traded for three-time Pro Bowl punter Andy Lee 10 days before the season opener, and in his first game he uncorked a franchise record boot of 76 yards – on the fly – in Denver. Over the course of the Panthers' rough 3-6 start, some labeled Lee the team MVP, but then he suffered a hamstring injury and was sidelined for the first time in his 13-year pro career.
Enter Palardy, the definition of a journeyman, a lefty who had spent two months last spring with Carolina and then spent time with four others teams over the next three-plus months before the Panthers came calling again. Palardy had never kicked in a regular season game despite bouncing around the league since 2014, but he acquitted himself well over the final seven games in Lee's place.
Now, the veteran and the vagabond find themselves competing for that spot.
"I don't like that mentality of trying to psych someone out. No, you do your thing, I'll do my thing, and we'll see what happens," Lee said. "He's a nice kid, a great kid with a lot of talent. I don't worry about what he's doing, though; I've just got to do my thing and let everything unfold the way it unfolds."
Palardy credits Lee for making the competition fun.
"Andy is a great punter, but he's an even better person. That makes it a lot more enjoyable," Palardy said. "The competition side of things isn't really in our control, so when we come out here we try to have as much fun as we possibly can and we try to help each other.
"There are a lot of competitions where people get territorial, but we don't act that way towards each other."
Turning "territorial" has never been an option in the NFL for Palardy. He was a staple for four years at the University of Tennessee as a punter and kicker, but his four years since have been the opposite of stable. Palardy, however, has learned to take the ups and downs in stride and plans to do the same no matter what happens when the Panthers have to pick one punter.
"I've been on 10 teams in four years. I've been cut multiple times. I've worked out for teams 25 or 26 times. I'm no stranger to adversity," Palardy said. "The reality of the situation is not only are you trying to compete for the team you're on, but you're trying to compete for the other 31 teams. If you have that mindset, then the outlook is completely different. That's much more calming, much more relaxing. You're better able to cope with the situation.
"A lot of adversity has hit through this four-year span, but it doesn't matter how many times I've been cut, how many times I've been told, 'No.' What matters is the fact that I get opportunities like this. Any opportunity I get is one more opportunity than someone else may get."
View photos from Carolina's third week of preseason practice.