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Carolina Panthers won't commit to tagging Greg Hardy

INDIANAPOLIS -- Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman repeatedly used the phrase "cap-strapped" on Thursday to describe the offseason ahead in Carolina.

Not exactly music to the ears of ascendant pass rusher Greg Hardy, who told Around The League during Super Bowl week that he's waiting for the team to "give me a phone call and offer me a crapload of money."

Much more likely than a long-term contract is the one-year, $12.5 franchise tag, but Gettleman wouldn't commit to anything at the NFL Scouting Combine, simply calling Hardy "part of the puzzle."

"Every team is going to use everything in their bag to get it done," Gettleman said of the tag. "So, who knows? I don't know."

As recently as Sunday, we called tagging Hardy a no-brainer for Carolina. It's still a strong bet, but the Panthers already have the league's fourth-highest-paid defensive end in Charles Johnson.

With Gettleman unwilling to overpay for anyone, Hardy's future looms as just one of many tough decisions facing the team's second-year general manager:

1. With four of Carolina's top five defensive backs set to enter free agency, cornerback Captain Munnerlyn recently called it "shocking" that the Panthers hadn't reached out about a new deal. "We're moving forward. We're waiting to see where the cap number comes in and we'll go from there," Gettleman said. "It's quiet everywhere. It's not just us, it's everywhere."

When Gregg Rosenthal asked Gettleman if Munnerlyn is Carolina's best corner, the front-office man remained vague, saying: "We're still evaluating."

2. For a team so thin at wide receiver, Steve Smith is a lock to keep his job, right? We thought so, but Gettleman wouldn't commit to the wideout when pressed. Asked if there's any chance the Panthers would part ways with Smith -- set to make $4 million guaranteed along with a $3 million bonus -- Gettleman said: "Steve's had a great career, and (super-long pause) the bottom line is, it's part of the evaluation process."

3. Will Jordan Gross return for one more season? Gettleman said last year's starting left tackle is "mulling it over." Asked if Gross would automatically land a new deal if he wants to play in 2014, Gettleman stopped short of a guarantee, reminding reporters (again) that "we're cap challenged," but "Jordan Gross has earned the right to make this decision."

4. One position is secure: "We have our quarterback," Gettleman said of Cam Newton. "We believe in him, he's improved in all areas and we're convinced he's the guy."

5. Gettleman said Carolina won't stray from the strategy it employed last offseason, floating affordable one-year deals to players they like but don't love. "We don't have a choice," the GM said as he bemoaned the slow growth of the cap. "What hasn't happened yet is the agents and the players don't understand that the money isn't there the way it used to be."

At least not for the Panthers.

The latest "Around The League Podcast" discusses controversial draft prospects Johnny Manziel and Jadeveon Clowney and reviews the offseason forecasts for the St. Louis Rams and Carolina Panthers.

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