Panthers begin cuts

It's the end of an era in Carolina. The Panthers parted ways with DT Brentson Buckner and RBs Stephen Davis and Rod Smart today to comply with the beginning of the NFL free agency period, and that is just the beginning.

The Salary Cap is believed to be 95 million dollars for the 2006-07 season, and the Panthers are estimated to be roughly 7 million dollars over that mark.

The Panthers are hopeful that they can restructure a few players' contracts to get under the cap and have more flexibility to sign free agents.

Davis and Smart had what some would deem below average seasons in 2005. Davis scored 12 rushing touchdowns, but most of them were 1 yard runs that most any NFL running back could have successfully attempted. Averaging a career-low 3.1 yards per carry on 180 attempts, Davis had trouble finding holes and moving piles in 2005 and his release was expected. Davis leaves the team as the Panthers' all-time leading rusher with 2,085 yards since his arrival with the team in 2003.

"Before we signed him, someone who knew him well told us that on game day he was a warrior," said general manager Marty Hurney. "There is no better way to describe him in the time he has been a Carolina Panther."

Smart carried the ball only 6 times in the last 2 seasons, for a grand total of 10 yards. Primarily a kick returner, Smart averaged 21.2 yards per return, which is an average that the panthers hope to improve upon in 2006.

Buckner could be re-signed at a lower cap value, but at age 34 there are younger options available. Buckner notched 36 tackles and 1 sack in 05, but his ability to quickly pick up the snap count of the opposing team will be missed the most. A leader in the locker room, Buckner always had something to say to keep the younger guys in check.

"Brentson was here when I arrived in 2002 and was an outstanding leader as well as player for us," head coach John Fox said on Wednesday. "He set a great example for our younger players in his preparation and will be missed."

"Each of these men played an important role in the success we have enjoyed here," Fox said. "It is not easy saying good bye to them. They were productive players, and their contributions played a major role in our going to the Super Bowl in 2003 and returning to the NFC Championship game last season."

The Panthers are attempting to restructure the contracts of Mike Minter, Mike Rucker, Jake Delhomme and Julius Peppers to get under the cap by 4:00 pm tomorrow. More players like LB Brandon Short, and possibly Karl Hankton could be released as well.

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