Panthers prepared to take cap hit if right Williams deal comes along

AP

Steve Smith closed the door on any rumored trade talks Wednesday, saying he intends to retire a Panther (although that one was a non-starter to begin with).

But that same door is still very much ajar when it comes to running back DeAngelo Williams.

While no particular deal is imminent, multiple league sources said there’s a viable chance Williams is dealt before tomorrow’s 4 p.m. deadline. Several teams have been in touch with the Panthers, and the interest is serious.

Even though trading Williams now would cause a $9.6 million acceleration onto next year’s salary cap, a source with knowledge of the situation said the Panthers are “absolutely” prepared to absorb that hit if the right deal comes along.

Moving Williams would benefit the Panthers in two ways, First, it would make more than $17 million in future base salaries go away (all his guaranteed money was in the first two years of his deal), for a player who has already fallen behind Jonathan Stewart on the depth chart.

Plus, taking the cap hit now would help clear the decks a bit for the next general manager, giving him more to work with when he takes over preparations for the 2013 and 2014 seasons.

And whether or not he’s traded in the next 24 hours, it now seems apparent Williams is not going to be a Panther in 2013 regardless. Even before the firing of general manager Marty Hurney, there was a realization that Williams’ days were numbered when Stewart signed his extension this summer, whether that meant him leaving in 2013 or ’14.

The Panthers don’t feel like they have to move him now, and won’t accept a low-ball offer for the sake of moving him. But the right offer could send him to a contender soon.

UPDATE 4:04 p.m. ET: The cap hit will actually come onto the 2013 cap, but the point stands that the Panthers aren’t deterred by finances, rather finding the right deal.