It’s not a coincidence that teams began using the franchise tag on the same day this announcement regarding an increased salary cap was made. The Saints tagged TE Jimmy Graham, the Jets tagged K Nick Folk, and the Panthers tagged DE Greg Hardy.
But franchising a Kicker is a common practice and the Saints really had no choice but to franchise Graham. It’s Carolina’s tagging of Hardy that’s by far the most interesting move to me.
By slapping Hardy with the tag, Panthers GM Dave Gettleman is saying two things: that he truly believes the cap will continue to increase, and that there is nothing more important than rushing the passer.
The $13.1 million cost of tagging Hardy comprises the majority of Carolina’s 2014 free agent spending money. And Gettleman made this decision in spite of Charles Johnson, the Defensive End who plays opposite Hardy, carrying a $16,420,000 2014 cap hit that increases to $17,420,000 in 2015. He did it despite franchise QB Cam Newton entering the final year of his rookie deal and despite the contract of reigning DPOY Luke Kuechly expiring after 2015.
Gettleman also made the decision to tag Hardy knowing that all four starters in Carolina’s secondary—Cornerback’s Captain Munnerlyn & Drayton Florence and Safety’s Quintin Mikell & Mike Mitchell—are current free agents.
The Panthers would gain little by releasing Smith. His cap charge for the year would be $6 million, assuming his is a post June 1, and he is currently only counting for $7 million. The team would then be responsible for $3 million in cap charges in 2015 ($4 million in acceleration and a $1 million credit for not picking up the option). His roster spot would also need to be replaced by someone making at least the minimum of $420,000. What it boils down to is that releasing Smith in 2014 is going to cost the Panthers $9.84 million in cap space and $3.84 million in cash plus a somewhat negative PR situation over the next two seasons.
The best case for both sides is to find a way to make Smith’s contract more reasonable for his age and expected performance level.