Panthers hope left tackle will help team seeking more room under NFL salary cap
The Carolina Panthers cut their third-longest tenured player Friday when veteran cornerback Chris Gamble was released.
And they want their second-longest tenured player to take a pay cut.
Left tackle Jordan Gross, who has the most career starts in team history, has been asked to restructure his contract to help the Panthers clear salary cap space, two league sources said Saturday.
Gross, 32, has a cap number this year of $11.7 million. Only Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson’s is higher at $13 million.
Releasing Gamble left the Panthers about $4 million under the $123 million cap. They need to be about $10 million to $12 million below it to bring in free agents – none expected to be big-name acquisitions – and sign their draft picks.
Gross said he wants the Panthers to be successful, but stopped short of saying he would agree to a reduced salary.
“There’s two sides to football – the football side and the business side. In the offseason, you deal with the business side,” Gross said Saturday in a phone interview. “Right now the Panthers and I are trying to work out the best solution to help this team move forward.”
The Panthers approached Gross about restructuring around the same time they asked center Ryan Kalil, tight end Greg Olsen and free safety Haruki Nakamura to do the same, according to sources. Ethan Lock, Gross’ agent, is believed to have met with the Panthers at the NFL combine last month.
Lock declined comment when reached Saturday.
The reworked contracts that Kalil and Olsen agreed to did not affect their total compensation.
Nakamura took a $500,000 pay cut following a season in which he gave up several big plays and lost his starting spot.
Gross is scheduled to make $8.7 million in base salary this year in the next-to-last year of his deal. His 2014 base is $6.7 million, but includes a $2 million roster bonus for 2014.
It’s not clear how big a pay cut the Panthers have asked Gross to take, or if it would affect the length of his contract.
Gross started all 16 games in 2012 to run his career total to a club-record 151, five more than wideout Steve Smith’s total. While some critics have suggested Gross has lost a step in recent years, Panthers coach Ron Rivera and general manager Dave Gettleman both said this offseason that Gross remains productive.
The Panthers have no one on their current roster who would be a viable replacement for Gross, a Pro Bowler following the 2008 and 2010 seasons.
Gross was a first-round pick from Utah in 2003, and was a starter that season when the Panthers made their lone Super Bowl appearance. Only Smith, with 12 seasons, has more seniority in the locker room.
Gross has missed nine starts in 10 years – seven coming in 2009 after he broke his leg.
When he passed Muhsin Muhammad as the franchise’s career starts leader last season, Gross indicated he wanted to finish out his contract and end his career as a Panther.
He said nothing Saturday that would suggest he feels differently, regardless of his contract negotiations.
“I’ve given 10 years to the Panthers and the Panthers have given 10 years to me. And nobody wants this organization to win more than I do,” Gross said. “I’d love to be a part of the equation for success in 2013. This is just something that has to get worked out.”