When the Panthers signed Matt Kalil before the 2017 season, the assumption was that a fully healthy Kalil, playing a couple of spots down the line from his older brother, could perform at the level of his Pro Bowl rookie season and develop into the franchise left tackle that the Panthers have been seeking since Jordan Gross retired after the 2013 season.
However, after spending most of 2017 battling injuries and inconsistent play and all of 2018 on injured reserve, Kalil’s future is in doubt in Carolina and the question of whether or not he’s lived up to his five-year, $55m franchise-left-tackle-level contract has yet to be answered; the question many fans are asking is how much Kalil will cost the Panthers if they decide to move on with a different choice at left tackle. Perhaps the answer is already on the roster – the 64th pick of the 2017 draft Taylor Moton played the first game of 2018 at left tackle opposite from 2017 second-team All-Pro Daryl Williams on the right side; should the Panthers bring back Williams and feel Moton can make the switch to left, Kalil becomes expendable.
After being completely healthy heading into training camp in 2018, lingering knee soreness eventually forced Kalil to go under the knife for a scope on August 21 and the 6-7 tackle began the season on injured reserve – after Williams reinjured his knee during Week 1, the Panthers signed 33-year old Chris Clark, who started for the next 12 weeks before giving way to Marshall Newhouse at left tackle.
After working on the side for a few weeks in October, Kalil was not seen at Panthers practice sessions for the last two months of the season – although he did travel with the team for most road games of the second half of the season.
“It’s just part of the game – you don’t choose when you get hurt or when something happens,” said Kalil after the Panthers final game against the Saints. “I thought I’d had a great offseason coming into that and I got hurt; you never know when that happens, I mean that’s the name of the game.”
“If they want to bring me back, they bring me back – I’m just focused on getting healthy and being here in the offseason and training.”
So while Kalil appears focused on playing next season, what would it cost the Panthers if that playing time was not in a Panthers uniform?
While Kalil still has over $40m left on his deal that extends through 2021, his 2019 cap hit would be $12.1m; however, if the Panthers release the 29-year old this offseason, his dead cap hit would be $14.7m against the 2019 cap and actually cost the Panthers over $2m in cap room – which certainly doesn’t sound very palatable.
But if the Panthers designate Kalil’s release as post-June 1, the left tackle will only count for $4.9m towards the 2019 cap, with most of that dead cap hit coming in 2020 – the Panthers would have $9.8m of Kalil’s contract count towards the 2020 salary cap, according to Spotrac.
The move would give the Panthers $7.25m in cap space during the 2019 offseason – perhaps money that could be used to sign a pass rusher. Perhaps a safety.
Or perhaps a new tackle.