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Carolina Panthers salary cap outlook: Greg Hardy enters his contract year

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Greg Hardy is in his contract year (USA Today Sports Images)

The "Shutdown Countdown" is chugging along. In addition to previewing each team, "Shutdown Corner" will be taking a brief look at each team's salary cap situation heading into the 2013 season and beyond. We continue the series with the Carolina Panthers.

2013 Adjusted Cap Number: $126.233 million (19th-largest adjusted cap number in the NFL in 2013)

2013 Cap Room Remaining: $9.496 million (12th-most available cap space in the NFL, as of July 24). According to Ben Volin of the Boston Globe, Panthers linebacker Jon Beason has restructured his contract, which will lower both his $5.25 million base salary and $9.5 million cap figure for the 2013 season.

[Related: Panthers poised for breakout year]

Best Bargain: Defensive end Greg Hardy posted seven sacks in his first two seasons with the Panthers before bursting out with 11 sacks (which was second behind Charles Johnson's 12.5 sacks) and had a team-high 13 tackles for loss and 19 quarterback hits. Hardy's playing time in 2011 and 2012 escalated his base salary from the league minimum ($630,000) to $1.35 million. In terms of cash compensation, Hardy's $1.35 million pay this season ranks 50th among current defensive end contracts. If Hardy produces another double-digit sack season, he should get a pretty good contract on the free agent market next offseason.

Potential Camp Cap Casualty: The Panthers have plenty of cap space and have already addressed done their roster purging with the releases of James Anderson, Ron Edwards and Chris Gamble earlier this offseason. Two names to consider are reserve offensive lineman Garry Williams, who is due $1.025 million in base salary and could be pushed off the roster, especially if 2013 fourth-round pick Edmund Kugbila earns a starting job and some of the younger, cheaper players step up in camp. The other is quarterback Jimmy Clausen, who hasn't played in a game since 2010, is due $630,000 in base salary and is clearly behind Cam Newton and Derek Anderson on the depth chart. First-year general manager David Gettleman came to Carolina from the New York Giants, who haven't carried three quarterbacks on their 53-man roster the last three seasons.

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Steve Smith (USA Today Sports Images)

Looming Contract Issue: The Panthers will surely exercise the fifth-year option on Cam Newton's contract next offseason. Another option the Panthers will have to decide on belongs to wide receiver Steve Smith, who is due a $3 million option bonus next June. Smith has bounced back since the arrival of Newton in 2011, catching 152 passes for 2,568 yards and 11 touchdowns over the last two seasons. Smith has been among the Top 25 wide receivers in Football Outsiders' receiving DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement) metric the last two seasons, as well, and is showing no signs of slowing down. However, Smith turns 35 next May. If one of the other Panthers receivers steps up this season, the Panthers may look to go younger at the position in 2014.

Free agents next offseason include Hardy, wide receiver Brandon LaFell, cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and yes, Clausen.

Long-Term Cash/Cap Outlook: The "Top 51" contracts on the Panthers next season have cap numbers totaling $120.3 million, but the team will also have to carry $2.8 million against their cap after designating Anderson as a "post-June 1" release. The Panthers will also have to account for $5.6 million in signing bonus acceleration once Jordan Gross' renegotiated contract voids five days after Super Bowl XLVIII. The Panthers have 37 players signed for 2015 with cap commitments totaling $116.4 million. That number that does not include Newton, who will either have a new long-term deal in place or will be playing under the fifth-year option, which is currently projected to be worth $13.614 million, the projected value of the 2014 quarterback transition tag, which is used to determine the amount of the fifth-year option and will be guaranteed in case of injury.

Previous salary cap outlooks

32. Oakland Raiders
31. Jacksonville Jaguars
30. Arizona Cardinals
29. Buffalo Bills
28. Cleveland Browns
27. Tennessee Titans
26. Kansas City Chiefs
25. New York Jets
24. San Diego Chargers
23. Philadelphia Eagles
22. Miami Dolphins
21. St. Louis Rams
20. Minnesota Vikings
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
18. Dallas Cowboys
17. Detroit Lions
16. Pittsburgh Steelers
15. Indianapolis Colts
14. New Orleans Saints
13. Chicago Bears
12. New York Giants

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