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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Rucker in cap danger, to add to health concerns

Mike Rucker's late-December ACL injury was devastating to the Panthers' defense, and throws a wrench into any plan toward this offseason's team-building. However, even a healthy Rucker would have problems making this staff without changing his contract, with a $2.35 million roster bonus that would count completely on the 2007 cap that's due on March 10. The team would save $4.4 million overall with the cut, and Rucker is likely unable to be completely healthy from knee surgery before fall, casting doubts on his readiness to start the season; even if he could, rushing back from injury too fast can occasionally cause re-injury. Rucker could start the year on the Physically Unable to Perform list, which would give him preseason and up to 8 weeks of the regular season to recover, but his salary is a very high one to sit the bench for half of a season outright.

Since the Rucker deal is in its final year, the team has many options:

  • Cutting Rucker outright saves his entire salary and the March bonus.
  • Renegotiating the current deal to save the bonus or most of the salary. Cutting Rucker and bringing him back is the most extreme part of this, and risks not being able to bring him back at all.
  • Pay Rucker as-is, and find much harder ways to clear cap space, very unlikely at this point.
It would be good to get something done to keep him aboard; anything done would come with the promise of future contract; Rucker turns 32 this month, and had not had any major injury up until this December. A durable, hard working defensive lineman, Rucker has been a major cornerstone to the franchise.

Also, Julius Peppers' ridiculous $14 million cap hit this year should hopefully be turned into a new deal, including rolling his $3 million incentive bonus for consecutive Pro Bowls into part of a signing bonus. A new deal will be costly - in the range of $8 million, minimum, with the signing bonus likely being tw0-part at minimum totaling at least $15 million. John Abraham received $45 million over 6 years, with a $12.5 million bonus last year, which may be a starting point for negotiations; however, if the team doesn't reach a deal with Peppers before Dwight Freeney signs before or during free agency, that deal will set the bar.

Panthers fans out there should hope for a long, drawn out Franchise Tag and holdout situation between Freeney and Colts GM Bill Polian, if a Peppers deal isn't signed. Carolina has no concern of losing Peppers, however, as his contract
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