Panthers GM Scott Fitterer plans to be 'patient' in free agency

The Carolina Panthers created some salary cap space by restructuring the contracts of Christian McCaffrey and Shaq Thompson. The room doesn't mean the Panthers plan to go on a spending spree early in free agency.

New general manager Scott Fitterer suggested Wednesday that the club would likely be on the hunt for bargains when the market opens rather than chasing shiny, high-priced additions.

"We'll talk to a lot of agents starting on Monday and see where the market is," Fitterer said, via the team's official website. "However, I think this might be one of those years where if you just wait and are patient, you might be able to get quite a few players in that middle class who get pinched by the cap this year.

"Even though we've created a lot of cap room, this is not a year we're going to go wild spending money. We're going to be very judicious in how we go about this."

With the NFL's salary cap falling from $198.2 million in 2020 to $182.5 million in 2021, the free-agent market is expected to be flooded with solid veteran players who aren't retained because their play deteriorated but rather because their clubs can't afford to keep them at their salary.

Top-of-the-market players should still see significant deals when the new league year opens on March 17, but the middle class is expected to get squeezed this season.

Clubs that are patient when the market opens could exploit the decrease in the salary cap, snagging solid middle-market veterans on low or one-year deals where they usually wouldn't be available. Fetterer's approach likely won't be unique this season as teams try to build their 2021 rosters on the cheap.

Like many teams, the Panthers know they aren't just one high-priced free agent away from competing for a Super Bowl.

"We're not just one player away," coach Matt Rhule said. "We're in a situation where we have to keep building our team. Like I said earlier with the cap situation, we have to be really targeted."

The biggest question in Carolina is how targeted the Panthers will be searching for a potential replacement for Teddy Bridgewater via trade, free agency, or in the draft.

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