The Carolina Panthers gained $8,500,000 in cap space when Jared Allen announced his retirement last week but they could be looking to create more space ahead of free agency next month. According to Charlotte Observer's Jonathan Jones and Joe Person, the Panthers will be asking Charles Johnson to restructure his contract to create additional cap space. If Johnson is unwilling, the team will most likely cut the veteran pass rusher.
Johnson will be entering the final year of his six-year, $76 million contract next season and has a cap hit of $15,020,000, which is the second highest total on the Panthers, behind only Cam Newton ($19,500,000). Johnson's cap hit also ranks as the third highest among defensive ends in the NFL, behind Mario Williams and Calais Campbell.
This is a substantial cap hit for a player who only had one sack in nine regular season games, which is the lowest since his rookie season in 2007. This is not typical for Johnson who has had double digit sack totals in three of the previous five seasons and the lowest was 8.5.
If the Panthers do cut Johnson, it would create over $11 million and combined with Allen's salary, the team would have over $36 million in cap space. This would give the team plenty to work with in free agency as well as sign their own free agents, primarily cornerback Josh Norman.
While, cutting the defensive end would create the most space, the team would most likely rather restructure Johnson's contract. It is tough to find pass rushers in this league with Johnson's track record and he did have a strong finish to the season with a sack in each playoff game.
This also means that the front office would have the task of not only finding one defensive end but two. The team does have some depth at the position with Kony Ealy, Mario Addison and Ryan Delaire but it would be an inexperience group. None of the players have shown they can be productive in a full-time role.
If Johnson is cut, this would be the third straight offseason that the Panthers have released a prominent veteran with the organization. Last season, the Panthers released running back DeAngelo Williams, who played nine seasons with the team, and the year before that released Steve Smith, who played 13 seasons in Carolina.
*All contract and cap space figures courtesy of Spotrac.