A number of names are hitting the NFL’s free agent market when the league year begins two weeks from Wednesday.
Over the past month, however, veteran players have already started to hit the open market with teams looking to create more cap space ahead of what will be a reduced cap year due to COVID-19.
The cap floor is $180 million and is expected to be in the $180 million to $185 million range. Last year’s cap was $198.2 million and had increased over the previous decade.
Next week, the number of released players will increase significantly, per league sources, as teams prepare for free agency and bringing in new players. The transactions are expected to skyrocket with veteran players who were slated to cost millions against teams’ caps now on the move prior to the legal tampering period beginning March 15 and then the official start to the league year on March 17.
For the Carolina Panthers, that has already begun in moving on from safety Tre Boston, defensive tackle Kawann Short, defensive end Stephen Weatherly, punter Michael Palardy and defensive tackle Kawann Short, whom the team would like to re-sign if he does not find a fit elsewhere.
What will the free agency/transaction frenzy mean for the Panthers?
The NFL Player’s Association is asking agents and players of the same positions to band together and share information on what teams are offering free agents to try and ensure the fairest deals possible.
Teams across the league have been preparing for the reality of the 2021 salary cap for months. In reality, there may be a high number of players available looking for deals that will match the demand with teams not wanting to overspend.
The Panthers are not expected to be particularly active in free agency, with the team preferring to build through the draft. But that doesn’t mean they won’t be involved, especially if players can be had on cheaper and shorter-term deals.
There are some obvious connections to positions of need. For example, Carolina needs assistance at tight end. Seeing players like Kyle Rudolph and Jared Cook come available is certainly intriguing. Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Cameron Brate, Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz and Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku could also be cap casualties. But less flashy moves are more of what is likely to come.
Last offseason, the Panthers invested in multiple offensive linemen on one-year deals, which is part of why so many are set to become free agents in two weeks. Head coach Matt Rhule has said the goal is to get younger on offense, but if veteran defenders come available for reasonable prices, it would make sense to bolster a young defense with experienced players, especially after moving on from Boston and Short.
The list of potential fits from players perhaps becoming available could go on and on. But there may be opportunities for teams to get players who wouldn’t otherwise have been available had the cap increased as normal, which is just an extra wrinkle for the 2021 season.
For the Panthers, the most significant cap-saving roster moves have already been made. Look for the team to re-sign a couple of their own players scheduled to become free agents, but for fewer signings to take place on a major scale or with the “big-name” players. Shorter-term deals could give teams an opportunity to sign players with less risk involved. It also benefits players to sign longer-term deals in future years.
Buckle up for a crazy couple of weeks.