The Panthers want to keep the player known as the Kraken. Figuring out the numbers could be harder than blocking him.
After musing about a hometown discount, defensive end Greg Hardy said he wants a “big number.” Three years ago, Charles Johnson received a “big number” — $76 million over six years. If that’s the “big number” Hardy has in mind, that could be a problem.
Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer looks at the Panthers’ options, which are limited. They can negotiate a long-term deal with Hardy, use the one-year franchise tag to keep him around for at least one more season, or let him hit the market and possibly leave.
The fourth option, in our view, would be to apply the franchise tag and try to trade him, like the Chiefs did last year with tackle Branden Albert. That would allow the Panthers to get something more than a compensatory draft pick in 2015, if he ultimately exits the organization.
Despite the magnitude of the contract paid to Johnson is 2011, it’s hard to say whether Hardy would generate that kind of interest on the open market. Last year, Cliff Avril ultimately received a two-year, $15 million contract from Seattle — a far cry from the “big number” he surely envisioned.
The problem for the Panthers is that, with Johnson already making that much, how could Hardy take less? That’s why it wouldn’t be a shock if the Panthers approach Johnson about re-doing a deal that has a $16 million cap number and a $9.75 million base salary in 2014. Per a league source, the Panthers have not yet broached the topic with Johnson.
Every team has a budget that applies to each position on the field, and the Panthers may have blown the defensive end line item on Johnson. Moreover, the team has other guys it wants to keep, from quarterback Cam Newton to linebacker Luke Kuechly (after 2015) to defensive tackle Star Lotulelei (after 2016).
So they may have to simply let Hardy walk — unless they’re willing to tell Johnson to take a hike.