Panthers G.M.: Can’t overspend at one position and weaken others

Getty Images

The Panthers have already invested heavily in a Pro Bowl guard. Which means they’re extremely unlikely to do so again.

With Andrew Norwell headed to free agency on March 14, it doesn’t take a long look between the lines to gather what General Manager Marty Hurney thinks is about to happen.

His first act when he was interim G.M. last fall was to sign Trai Turner to a four-year, $45 million contract extension, and that’s a factor now. While he didn’t mention Norwell specifically, Hurney did reveal some clues in an exclusive staff meeting with Bill Voth of the team’s official website.

“We want to keep as many of our players as we can,” Hurney said. “But there are some instances that with the makeup of our roster, not only do you have to have varying skill sets as far as players go, but your economic makeup has to be diverse as well. You can’t invest an overly high percentage of your salary cap into one position and weaken others.”

That could also apply to a lesser degree to defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, who is also just over two weeks away from a free market. The Panthers have secured Kawann Short long-term and have 2016 first-rounder Vernon Butler on the rise (though neither is a true nose tackle like Lotulelei), which means they could be bracing themselves for multiple line departures. Lotulelei will be easier to keep, but not certain.

“This is the time of the year you have to make very hard decisions. You have to be patient,” Hurney said. “You can’t have a knee-jerk reaction as far as falling in love with a guy and overspending and hurting your team salary cap-wise.

“We have a plan in place, and sometimes that plan goes down to five, six options at one spot because you have to have that approach to be fluid.”

Tagging Norwell isn’t an option since guards get lumped with left tackles for that calculation, and his impending departure could indirectly impact other decisions. Veteran center Ryan Kalil‘s carrying a big cap number into his last season, after playing just 14 games the last two years because of injuries. But with Norwell on his way out, it’s less likely they’d blow up the middle of their line (though they might ask Kalil for a pay cut).