TE Kris Mangum, a part time starter for the last five years and a consistently hard-working Panther for ten, retired today per the team website. Mangum officially started 61 of 126 games played, splitting time with Wesley Walls in 2000-01, and a host of players through the John Fox era. The Mississippi native caught 151 balls for 1424 yards and 9 touchdowns in his career, all with Carolina.
The move saves the team $1.1 million. One rumor suggests that Mangum retired rather than face getting cut amid pressure for the team to find one clear starter, a move that would make Mangum's salary somewhat prohibitive. However, given the team's propensity for versatile, smart veterans in support roles, it's entirely possible the team would have as well liked to have kept Mangum aboard another year as a backup.
With the money saved from the retirement, the team now enters Friday's free agent session with about $5.5 million to spend. There aren't any other cuts necessary to be under the salary cap by Friday. However, the team would likely need to make cuts if signings started, and the team does still need to deal with roster bonuses that include Dan Morgan's, Mike Rucker's, and Jake Delhomme's, by the 10th of March.
The TE position in free agency features a pair of very promising starters: Dan Graham, formerly of the Patriots (and coached by new OC Jeff Davidson) and Eric Johnson, formerly of the 49ers. Both have had minor injury problems recently, but both have promising backgrounds. Given the number of balls Kellen Winslow II saw in Cleveland with Davidson as interim OC, the team may be looking to put together an upgrade.
Also, with Graham as the key free agent, the Minnesota Vikings are supposedly willing to throw significant money his way, leaving their own free agent pair of Jim Kleinsasser and Jermaine Wiggins available. Wiggins is a support player in the passing game; good hands and decent routes make him a viable option there, but his blocking isn't good and effort may not be there. Kleinsasser is an expert blocker as a TE or as a FB, but is only an outlet option at TE, never reaching anywhere near Wiggins' high catch totals of 2004-05.
Wiggins, as a Panther, was at odds with former OC Dan Henning, supposedly taking less money to go to Minnesota than stay in Carolina; it paid off, catching a total of 186 balls in three years since leaving. Whether the team thinks he's a good enough blocker, or whether he can be paid just enough to be a role player, is hard to say, but chances are the ill will from the past offense won't be there. As well, Wiggins was tutored by Davidson as a Patriot before coming to Carolina.
Jeff King will, undoubtedly, be looked at as a long term player from a roster standpoint, and may be able to compete a bit this year. Michael Gaines, a part time starter with Mangum, is the current default starter, but is a free agent after this year and has only shown occasional promise despite good athleticism. With that pair, the team only has marginal talent, unless King shows something in year two; chances are, Gaines will not be retained unless he steps up a bit, as he's a restricted free agent this year (and therefore unrestricted next year).