They're tightening the belt in Carolina

It’s hard to say if there is a good place to be for players looking to get paid right now.

The top talents in unrestricted free agency hit it big and meanwhile money has been hard to come by elsewhere. Sure, Patrick Willis got a big extension in San Francisco. Jahri Evans hit the jackpot in New Orleans. But those signings and similar ones are the exceptions this offseason.

Especially in a place like Carolina where the Panthers chopped payroll in a big way this offseason. The Panthers have some players waiting to be paid too. Linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis are looking for new deals. Running back DeAngelo Williams and cornerback Richard Marshall would also like some new paper. Sooner rather than later.

As Darin Gantt detailed in the Charlotte Observer, the Panthers have been notoriously proactive under general manager Marty Hurney, getting deals done early with players to make them happy and ultimately maybe save the organization a few bucks down the road. The philosophy is pretty simple. Reward your own early and you set an example of how business will be done and what players can strive for in the locker room. But the Panthers have shed big contracts this offseason, cutting quarterback Jake Delhomme and watching defensive end Julius Peppers depart via free agency. There hasn’t been a lot of movement the other direction.

The widespread belief is that Panthers owner Jerry Richardson is taking a hard-line stance with labor uncertainty, anxious to be one of the clubs setting an example for the rest of the league.

“This year, more than any I’ve ever seen, the business is rearing its head,” left tackle Jordan Gross told Gantt. “With Mr. Richardson being at the spot he’s at in the negotiating team and all that, I think he’s got to walk the walk and talk the talk. And he’s doing that.”

Per the report, Carolina has been in the top half of the league in payroll five times in the last 10 years. Only two times have they been below 22nd. It looks they’re headed in that direction.

Richardson doesn’t respond directly, but he is quoted in a team-owned publication, “Roar Magazine.” Per Steve Reed of, Richardson said letting longtime players go this offseason was “extremely difficult.”

“We were at a point with our football team that we had to make some tough football decisions, which were separate of the CBA,” Richardson said. “We have a number of younger players who showed promise at the end of last season and need to get on the field.”

“We feel recent drafts have been productive and have players for those positions where changes were made. There are no guarantees going into any season. We saw that last year when we had 21 of 22 starters returning. I think players like Steve Smith, DeAngelo Williams, and Jonathan Stewart, plus a good offensive line, provide a lot of opportunity on offense and Jon Beason, Thomas Davis, and Chris Gamble on defense form a good core of players to build around.”

Good core to build around? Sure. But not a core the Panthers wanted to do much to augment in free agency. The Panthers do have some nice young players. The risk they run in not extending players early is that they will lose them in free agency or be forced to play the franchise tag game like they did with Peppers.

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