07/21/11 — Opinion - Panthers seeking answers

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Opinion - Panthers seeking answers

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on July 21, 2011 1:47 PM

The end of the NFL lockout has become a matter of "when," not "if."

When business does finally resume the Carolina Panthers, like every other team in the league, will be plenty busy trying to finalize a roster before the first Sunday of the regular season on Sept. 11.

Veteran wide receiver Steve Smith has expressed a desire to be traded after Carolina went 2-14 last season and averaged 12 points a game. His 46 receptions in 2010 were his lowest while playing a full season since he caught 54 passes in 2002.

Smith has two years remaining on his contract and is due nearly $15 million in outstanding base salary. Smith is scheduled to make $7 million this season and $7.75 million in 2012. He would be highly valued on the free-agent market, but would also provide a big-play threat for Carolina rookie quarterback Cam Newton.

Smith has grown increasingly frustrated with a Panthers' offense that finished last in the NFL in passing yards a year ago with 2,289 and averaged just 143 a game.

Running back DeAngelo Williams is set to become a free agent once the lockout ends and is expected to be in high demand. He is considered to be among the top tailbacks available in a free-agent class that includes the Giants' Ahmad Bradshaw, Cincinnati's Cedric Benson and the Colts' Joseph Addai.

Williams has rushed for 4,211 yards and 31 touchdowns in five seasons in Charlotte. He played in just six games in 2010 due to injury, but would be a nice security blanket to Newton.

Newton threw for 2,854 yards and 30 touchdowns last season while guiding Auburn to a national championship. He also ran for another 1,473 yards and 20 touchdowns. Newton did get access to a Panthers' playbook while the lockout was temporarily lifted, but like all rookies, has not had the opportunity to learn at mini-camps or OTAs (organized team activities.)

Newton operated primarily out of the shotgun in Auburn's spread-option offense and often improvised while relying on his feet to make plays rather than looking down the field if the pocket broke down. How that translates to a Panthers' offensive line that allowed 50 sacks a year ago remains to be seen.

Along with re-signing Williams, Carolina has expressed interest in working out new deals with defensive end Charles Johnson, linebacker Thomas Davis and cornerback Richard Marshall. Under the proposed new labor agreement, a salary cap floor of close to $120 million, with about another $20 million in team benefits, would go into place. Teams would be required to spend at least $120 million on player salaries.

The Panthers currently have $70.5 million invested in payroll, meaning another $50 million would need to be spent to meet the required salary cap floor. If the franchise tag gets worked out as expected, center Ryan Kalil, who had the tag placed on him before the lockout, is going to add $10 million to that.

Carolina is scheduled to play its first preseason game Aug. 13 at home against the Giants and the regular season begins 28 days later at Arizona.

New head coach Ron Rivera has plenty of work to do to erase the sting of last season's disaster. The clock is ticking and a once-proud fan base is desperate for anything to cheer about.