Steve Smith’s contract gives Panthers $4.75 million in cap space

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When last we looked at the team-by-team cap space, the Panthers had only $623,000, lowest in the entire league.

The new contract for receiver Steve Smith gives the team some much needed breathing room.

Per a league source, the contract created $4.75 million in cap space by dropping Smith’s cap number for 2012 from $10.713 million to $5.963 million.

The contract pays Smith a $10 million signing bonus and a $1 million base salary in 2012.  Next season, Smith receives a fully-guaranteed base salary of $3.75 million.

In June 2014, the Panthers have to make a decision.  With a $3 million option bonus payable from June 1 through June 30 and a $3 million non-exercise fee owed to Smith if he’s on the roster on July 1 and the team doesn’t pay the bonus, the Panthers must decide at that point whether to pay the money or cut Smith loose.

Paying the option extended Smith’s contract through 2016, at a base salary of $9 million.

Smith’s base salary for 2014 is $4 million, with $3 million of it fully guaranteed unless and until the option is exercised.

In 2015, Smith is due to earn a base salary of $7 million.

And so it looks like a two-year, $14.75 million contract, and possibly a three-year, $21.75 million deal.  At this point, it’s unlikely that the Panthers will pay Smith $7 million in 2015 (when he’ll be 36) or $9 million in 2016.

In the unlikely event Smith plays each of the next five years under the terms of the new deal, he’ll make $37.75 million.