Immediately after the Pittsburgh-Carolina game, the team has to start work on getting down from 75 players to 53. 22 have to go - traditionally, Carolina picks up one or two players from other teams as well.
Say you take the top 2 at each spot in the depth chart - that's 44. Then you add in the four special teams guys, that's 48. If you keep 9 OL, which is typical, you've gained one back - 47. So that leaves five spots you can have an extra player amongst QB, RB, WR, TE, or any of the defensive positions. Many of them wouldn't even dress on most weeks, a consideration that must come into play. What are the roster-filling options?
A third QB isn't a foregone conclusion - especially if it's McCown dropping to the third spot, where his money in a tight cap spot could come in handy. It's also not a heavy likelihood he would get cut - he's the experienced backup, and the team did put a 7th round pick into getting him.
A third RB is necessity. There's no way the Panthers or any other team in the league would go without at least three RBs, even if not all were active on gameday. But Mike Goodson, a 4th round pick and expected kick returner, would definitely make the roster.
A third TE isn't as critical. But the team does run two tight end sets about 45% of the time, and all three have talent. All three are versatile, all three have roles on special teams.
A fifth WR doesn't have much of a shot. After the starting pair, Dwayne Jarrett and Kenny Moore are in, and the fourth guy must be good to stick…the Panthers often kept only three active in the Ricky Proehl days unless you include Karl Hankton. Keeping a 5th WR that would sit in street clothes all year isn't a priority.
A fifth DT looks like it could be necessary, if things stay as they are - Damione Lewis is the only sure thing, and third round pick Corvey Irvin isn't amongst the top three right now. Marlon Favorite and Nick Hayden are, for now, but one could go if a quality starter shows up in trade. It'd also be more likely the team would keep four instead of five.
The 5th best DE could get left out, being that there are four good DE in front of Hilee Taylor. The 5th DT could be the necessity, if they don't find a starting defensive tackle soon. The team can't afford to hold 10 DL.
A seventh LB doesn't look terribly likely, but Jeremy Leman could be tough to pass up on special teams. The team has a top notch starting trio, James Anderson has played very well at WLB in Thomas Davis' absence, and both Dan Connor and Landon Johnson have the ability to play either spot remaining.
A ninth DB could be in play simply from a development standpoint. Behind the starting corners, Dante Wesley and CJ Wilson look to be in the plans; with Captain Munnerlyn and Sherrod Martin not in that top four, there's a difficult decision to be made. Quentin Teal should be the third safety, and the team likes Nate Salley at SS. Salley's million dollar salary is a negative; his lack of speed in a defense that thrives on it is a concern, as is the lack of practice time. Wesley is a special teams guy who also plays some FS as of this week - could that allow the team to keep three safeties and five corners? Martin, who probably doesn't play much this year based on the depth chart, is a 2nd round pick who was a college safety, aiding in the depth without a third dedicated safety; Munnerlyn may be our punt returner. Wilson, at this point, is the nickelback. There's little room to cut down to 8 if they keep Salley. They're not going to cut the 5th best CB, Martin. If he elevates ahead of anyone but Munnerlyn, they'd keep that guy too (Munnerlyn would only drop to 5th if he's not punt returning). The team has no real option of keeping five safeties.
The OL and fullback roles are the only ones that could make room typically. A run-heavy team like Carolina can't afford to not carry 2 FB, and backup Tony Fiammetta is both the future and a player who could get critical roles on special teams if healthy.
The team won't keep 10 OL, but the decision becomes whether to keep 8 or 9. Can vet Justin Geisinger be the swing player at tackle and guard, leaving Mackenzie Bernadeau the interior "Lego Lineman" and Duke Robinson the inactive guy to develop? Or would they keep promising run blocker (and concerning pass blocker) Geoff Schwartz as well? The team probably wouldn't play Geisinger or Schwartz at tackle unless something major went wrong, likely expecting that Travelle Wharton would slide out. But Geisinger has played guard to this point. Given the lack of experience backing the line, hard to say they can afford to keep just 8, but they did it last year. Geisinger would be the odd man out.
There would be five spots open, if there are two deep at every position plus the 4 specialists, and minus one OL. There are 8 places the team would typically want that extra backup, so someone has to go. LB is the quickest way to cut one; next easiest is WR. That leaves one position to make the tough cut:
FB would follow traditional roles in the past but wouldn't fit the current team concept. Same for TE. QB is almost always 3 players, and they have something invested in each. The team could actually go to 8 DL if they got the right DT in, but won't. They'll probably keep 9 DL and 9 DB, and 3 RB.