Will Charles Johnson be back with the Panthers next season? We may find out soon if the lockout ends. (AP)
CHARLOTTE – With new optimism swirling over the possible end to the 95-day owner’s lockout before the end of the month, folks are beginning to get excited about the NFL playing actually football this season.
For fans, it appears a 16-game regular season is a real possibility again after owners and players have reportedly made major strides in negotiations during the past week, a notion that seemed unlikely just last week.
And for certain Carolina Panthers players, an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) will not only have a dramatic impact on their bank accounts, but could determine whether they’ll be staying in Charlotte this season or packing their bags and taking their game somewhere else.
Here are the 10 players who could be impacted the most by the outcome of a new deal between owners and players:
WR Steve Smith: The Panthers can’t trade Smith until there’s a new CBA in place, so his future, like so many others, has been on hold for months. Once a new CBA is secured, the Panthers are likely to listen trade offers for Smith, who turns 32 this year. If the Panthers get a decent offer, look for them to move Smith (San Diego and Baltimore are options) and appease his wishes. If they don’t, Smith, who has two years left on his contract, could be forced to return against his wishes, a la Julius Peppers two years ago.
QB Cam Newton: Last year’s No. 1 overall pick, Sam Bradford, received an $80 million contract that included $50 million guaranteed. However, there’s plenty of talk about a rookie salary cap that would limit the amount of money an incoming rookie can command. That’s good news for the Panthers, who'd save money under a salary, but bad news for Newton, who could potentially make millions less than Bradford.
C Ryan Kalil: As it stands now, Kalil is the team’s franchise player and due to make more than $10 million this season. He signed that contract from the Panthers, but there’s still a chance a new CBA could potentially wipe out the legitimacy of the franchise tag teams used earlier this offseason, thus preventing Kalil from collecting that money and effectively tossing him back into free agent pool.
RB DeAngelo Williams: In the past Williams would have been an unrestricted free agent, but the new CBA will determine whether or not he’s an unrestricted or a restricted free agent. There’s a considerable difference. If Williams, a five-year NFL veteran, is an unrestricted free agent he can sign with anyone else and the Panthers would receive no compensation. If he’s restricted, the Panthers would have a right to match any offer made to him by another team and receive compensation should they lose him – at least under previous rules.
DE Charles Johnson: He had an incredible season in 2010, but with only four years of experience, Johnson is among those waiting to find out if he’ll be unrestricted or restricted. If he hits the open market, look for him to break the bank with a huge contract. Presumably, teams will be given a brief window to re-sign their own free agents before other teams get a shot at them. In all likelihood Johnson will wind up re-signing with the Panthers during that period.
LB James Anderson: See Johnson, minus the break-the-bank contract.
QB Matt Moore: Like Johnson and Anderson, Moore is a four-year veteran whose contract has expired. But Moore’s biggest concern may not be whether he’s a free agent or not, but if the Panthers sign a veteran free agent to tutor Cam Newton and Jimmy Clausen. Moore wants to return to Carolina, but he knows if the Panthers sign a veteran he’s likely headed out the door and could end up in Miami. For now, Moore is a little like the Maytag repair man, just sitting and waiting… and waiting.
CB Richard Marshall: Marshall is another four-year veteran and has made it pretty clear he’d like to move on since the Panthers seem unwilling to give him a big contract. It’s unclear if the rules will prevent him from exploring his options. If he's a restricted free agent, he could return, although a holdout there is an option.
CB Chris Gamble: He’s set to make $6.75 million this season, so the Panthers have a decision to make. Gamble was benched last season following a disagreement with the coaching staff. Ron Rivera and his new staff must determine if Gamble is worth the money he’s set to make. If not, the Panthers might be looking for two cornerbacks rather than just one. At this point, the Panthers can't make a roster move, but we'll have to see what happens moving forward. At 28, he's still young and could bounce back.
LB Thomas Davis: No matter how the CBA comes out, Davis is one guy who’ll be free to hit the free agent market as he’s a six-year NFL veteran. Regardless, Davis said he fully expects to re-sign with the Panthers once free agency begins. Basically, it sounds like he’s simply just biding his time until he gets a new contract. I wouldn't expect the Panthers to overpay, however, for a guy who is coming off a pair of torn ACLs in his right knee.