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With reports leaking out that the NFL Salary Cap might ‘only’ drop to $180 Million in 2022, the Carolina Panthers have some big decisions to make about their future. Each year’s cap is based on league earnings from the past year. 2020 obviously deflated those earnings as most teams had little to no revenue to speak of from ticket, concessions, and in-stadium merchandise sales. The Panthers are entering 2021 as a transition year for the franchise with the hope that their fortunes will improve at the same time as the league’s.

With that in mind, here are the six largest player contracts the Panthers currently have on their books for the 2021 season. Whether any of them are cut, traded, or retained, these athletes and their contracts will shape the team’s strategy as they build their 2021 roster. We won’t break down their full contracts here. Instead, let’s focus on the big picture items: their current cap hit and the dead money penalty the Panthers would incur if these players were released.

Cheap Teddy Bridgewater Jersey
Cap hit: 23,000,000

Dead money: 20,000,000

I hesitated in writing this piece at all because I know a plurality of the comments below are going to be along the lines of “Bridgewater is an overpaid bum.” Maybe this might add a little nuance to some of the concrete opinions we’ve been seeing the last few months:

Bridgewater is set to be the 15th highest paid quarterback in the NFL in 2021. His contract is a lot of money, but it also isn’t a lot of money by modern NFL quarterback standards.

Cheap Kawann Short Jersey
Cap hit: $20,839,000

Dead money: $11,017,000

Short has been with the Panthers since they selected him in the second round of the 2013 draft. He was part of a double dip in the first two rounds at defensive tackle that remade the Panthers front four in advance of their 2015 Super Bowl run. He has, unfortunately, ended the last two seasons on injured reserve with an injury to each shoulder.

His contract is currently the fourth most expensive contract for an interior defensive lineman in 2021.

Cheap Shaq Thompson Jersey
Cap hit: $14,180,000

Dead money: $9,600,000

Cheap Luke Kuechly Jersey retirement provided a stage for Thompson, and he didn’t hesitate to take it. His performance in 2020 rewarded the faith placed in Thompson by the previous brain trust behind the Carolina Panthers. His contract makes him unlikely to be playing anywhere else in 2021. He will likely be with the team until the final year of his contract (2023) when releasing him could save the team $13M.

His current contract has him as the third highest paid linebacker in the NFL for the 2021 season. He’ll be paid behind only the Seattle Seahawks Bobby Wagner and the Minnesota Vikings Anthony Barr

Which Carolina Panthers players might their former general manager Marty Hurney look to bring to the Washington Football Team during free agency?

As it turned out, Marty Hurney wasn’t out of work for long after being fired by the Carolina Panthers for a second time. The recently departed general manager is reuniting with Ron Rivera at the Washington Football Team, which is the latest in a series of old employees who have come together in a different environment.

Hurney’s second stint in Carolina was full of hits and misses. For all his faults, the man knew what a first-round NFL Draft pick looked like and even managed to find some real gems in the later rounds to further bolster the roster during a period of transition.

However, some of the personnel decisions regarding contract extensions – or a lack thereof – is something that eventually cost him his job. Whether the old pals’ act in Washington is going to bring success remains to be seen, but it’s clear that Rivera had a huge say in this hire and is willing to die on the sword, so to speak.

This might come with Hurney trying to recruit some familiar faces in the coming weeks. Let’s take a look at four Panthers who might end up in Washington this offseason.

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Player No. 1
Carolina Panthers
Kawann Short – Carolina Panthers DT
Kawann Short is going to be released by the Panthers sooner rather than later providing a shock restructure doesn’t come to pass. The defensive tackle has endured a torrid time through injury over the last two years, but if he fully recovers from his latest significant problem then a move to Washington might not be out of the question.

Rivera benefitted from a formidable defensive front during his first season at the helm. This was the catalyst behind them winning the NFC East and attaining a shock playoff berth, so adding a proven Pro Bowler like Short to this already talented group would give their depth another substantial shot in the arm.

Given how little Short has seen the field recently, he might welcome a lesser role where the wear and tear won’t be as significant and the prospect of linking up with Rivera and Hurney would be considered from the player’s perspective.

Cheap Christian McCaffrey Jersey
Cap hit: $12,537,500

Dead money: $24,937,500

With the Panthers projected to have approximately $17M in cap space in 2021, Christian McCaffrey is unlikely to be going anywhere on his own in the next year. The team will have to cross their fingers and hope that the string of injuries to his ankle, shoulder, and quad were just fluke coincidences.

He is projected to be the third highest paid running back in the NFL this season, behind the Dallas Cowboys Ezekiel Elliot and the Tennessee Titans Derrick Henry. That is mildly deceptive, however, as his average money per year shakes out to be the most of any running back contract through 2026. There is a lot to parse between McCaffrey’s contract and the Panthers recent general manager search. We’ll have more on that story later.

Cheap Robby Anderson Jersey
Cap hit: $12,000,000

Dead money: $4,000,000

Anderson is set to be the 18th highest paid wide receiver in the NFL in 2021. That is the realm of a below average starter, not a 1,000 yard receiver on a team with a shaky quarterback.

Suffice it to say that the Panthers could be poised to get good value out of their top 2020 free agency signing. That said, cutting him would save the team $8M against the cap this year. That is room they could use if they have an eye towards the future moreso than this upcoming season.

Cheap Matt Paradis Jersey
Cap hit: $10,330,000

Dead money: $5,400,000

Paradis joined the Panthers on the heels of Cheap Ryan Kalil Jersey retirement. He has been, at his worst, an above average center. He will be the seventh highest paid center in the NFL in 2021.

His is probably the safest name on this list, even if the Panthers decide to go scorched earth on this roster in Scott Fitterer’s first year as general manager (which is, just for the record, highly unlikely). Paradis is a good offensive lineman on a team without a lot of those. Yes, they could save $5M by releasing him, but they’ll never fill his shoes, or those in all of their other holes with 2.7% of the projected cap that they’d save with his release.

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t’s crunch time. Get ready for game day, and don’t forget the chips when the Panthers face the Vikings on Sunday. Here are five things to watch for in the matchup.

GETTING SOME GUYS BACK

As much as anything, the Panthers are trying to create some sense of stability this season without swinging wildly in any particular direction from week to week.

The hope is that will eventually translate into season to season, but for now, they’ll work with what they have.

Quarterback Cheap Teddy Bridgewater Jersey will be back on the field this week after he was held out last Sunday against the Lions because of a slight right knee injury. Honestly, it would probably take a restraining order to keep Bridgewater off the field in Minnesota, where his career started and nearly ended because of his 2016 left knee injury.

There were also promising signs with left tackle Cheap Russell Okung Jersey and right guard Cheap John Miller Jersey back on the practice field this week. While no one said it out loud, those two being out last week likely played into the decision to give Bridgewater a week to heal, and backup Cheap P.J. Walker Jersey did a good enough job to lead them to the win.

Running back Cheap Christian McCaffrey Jersey won’t be back until after the bye week (and he did more in practice this week as he comes back from his shoulder injury), but the Panthers are getting closer to what they’re used to on offense, which can only help.

Kirk Cousins
Kamil Krzaczynski/AP
COUSINS ON A ROLL

The Vikings have committed themselves to quarterback Kirk Cousins, and their fate generally swings with his performance.

Early on this season, when he was turning it over all the time, that put them in a hole they may not be able to dig out from.

But for his part, he’s played incredibly well since the bye.

In the four games since their break, Cousins has thrown nine touchdowns and just one interception, has completed 71.0 percent of his passes, averaging 9.9 yards per attempt, and has a passer rating of 128.2.

That’s allowed him to put an ugly start behind him, as he held the league lead in interceptions earlier this year (only recently yielding it to Philadelphia’s Carson Wentz), but has bounced nicely.

TAKE YOUR TIME TEDDY

This isn’t the typical Vikings’ defense we’re used to seeing, primarily because they lack anything resembling a pass rush.

After losing defensive end Danielle Hunter to a season-ending injury, then flipping trade acquisition Yannick Ngakoue to the Ravens in October, the Vikings are making do with a bunch of third-day picks (if that) up front.

Ngakoue had five sacks in his six games there, and there’s a good chance he could be the team leader in that category at season’s end, as no one else on the roster has more than three at the moment.

Adam Thielen
Bruce Kluckhohn/AP
SHORTHANDED ON BOTH SIDES

The Panthers will be without cornerback Cheap Donte Jackson Jersey again this week as they try to let his problematic toe injury heal.

The Vikings could have an equivalent absence on the other side of the ball.

Wide receiver Adam Thielen has been on the reserve/COVID-19 list since Monday, and reports suggested he might not be cleared in time to play this week.

He had a huge game last time out, with eight catches for 123 yards and two touchdowns last week against Dallas. His 11 touchdown receptions are a league-high, as he’s become Cousins’ go-to target after they traded Stefon Diggs to the Bills this offseason.

Thielen has been especially dangerous in the red zone, with 10 of his touchdowns coming inside the 20-yard line.

The Vikings can still be effective on offense, especially with the way running back Dalvin Cook has performed this year, but being without Thielen would be a major blow.

GOOD TO SEE YOU AGAIN

The Panthers are on a bit of a roll against teams that employ the franchise’s original coach, Dom Capers.

The 70-year-old Capers, who coached the Panthers from 1995-98 and led the expansion team to the NFC Championship Game in its second year, now works as a senior defensive consultant with the Vikings.

The Vikings are his seventh team since he left Charlotte, including long stints as the Texans’ head coach (2002-05) and the Packers’ defensive coordinator (2009-2017).

The last three times they’ve seen Capers, the Panthers have won, including last year’s game against Jacksonville and the 2015 and 2017 games against the Packers. He had won the previous four meetings with the Panthers (1999 with the Jaguars, 2003 with the Texans, and 2011 and 2014 with the Packers).

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CHARLOTTE – Quarterback Cheap P.J. Walker Jersey 2020 has been a story of “what’s next?” When one door’s closed, another’s opened, and he’s always seemed to rise to the occasion.

For those not familiar with the New Jersey native’s story, Walker was one of the standout players in the XFL. After COVID-19 forced the league to end its season abruptly, the MVP favorite had no choice but to ask, “What’s next?”

During the NFL offseason, Walker found a home in Charlotte where he was signed to compete for the backup job behind Cheap Teddy Bridgewater Jersey.

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Brandon Todd/Carolina Panthers
As the Panthers’ team photographer, I’ve had the unique opportunity to watch Walker every day at practice. I’ve watched him get better day after day as he takes reps against the starting defense.

When Bridgewater was listed as a game-time decision with a knee injury suffered against Tampa Bay, another door opened for Walker. This time he got the call to start against the Lions.

Pregame seemed to be business as usual. Walker warmed up with fellow backup Cheap Will Grier Jersey and quarterbacks coach Jake Peetz.

After receiving the news that Walker had been named Sunday’s starter, I shifted my focus to him, knowing that every photo would help tell the story of his first NFL start.

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Brandon Todd/Carolina Panthers
One of my favorite shots from Walker’s day came early during walkouts for pregame.

I set up my Godox strobe at a low angle, and I was able to capture this cool shot of Walker and his linemen walking through the tunnel to the field.

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Brandon Todd/Carolina Panthers
When the action started, Walker, who is known to make plays outside of the pocket, had a couple of cool throws on the run.

When you have a quarterback who likes to make plays on the run, you not only have to focus on him in stride, but you also have to anticipate where he may throw the ball when he’s in motion.

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Brandon Todd/Carolina Panthers
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Another bonus of having a scrambling quarterback is knowing you’re going to get an electrifying play if he breaks out of the pocket.

My favorite photo from this game came when Walker broke the pocket and started to make his way downfield, where he laid a solid stiff arm on a Lions’ defender.

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Brandon Todd/Carolina Panthers
With the help of some big plays by the defense and special teams, Walker led the Panthers to a 20-0 win.

During a normal year, I’d follow Walker from the field to the locker room, where I would photograph him celebrating with his teammates. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 restrictions, my journey with him stopped at the locker room door where he entered to celebrate his first NFL victory.