Panthers shed more payroll by releasing veteran DT Lewis

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers cut veteran defensive tackle Damione Lewis on Thursday, further depleting their line in a move that shaves another $5 million off their rapidly shrinking payroll.

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One week after the Panthers decided against paying defensive end Julius Peppers more than $20 million with the franchise tag, they parted ways with another starter and a locker-room leader.

"My cap number was a little high, about $5 million. Anything can happen in that situation," said Lewis, who's 32. "With all of this stuff going with the CBA, I tried to be realistic. But I thought it was possible."

Lewis had 41 tackles and a half sack in 16 starts last season as he played with numerous other tackles in Carolina's banged-up line. Lewis had 48 tackles and 3.5 sacks in 2008, the first year he replaced Kris Jenkins as a starter.

Lewis was signed to a contract extension before the 2008 season, but the deal was restructured last offseason to clear salary-cap space. There was a clause that called for the contract to revert to its old terms if a large bonus wasn't paid this spring. Lewis would have been due $4 million this season and a $1 million roster bonus.

Panthers general manager Marty Hurney didn't immediately return a phone message seeking comment. Coach John Fox has avoided reporters since the final day of the regular season.

"Coach Fox said it was more of an economic deal. He said it wasn't about the way I played," Lewis said. "I feel like I had a good season. The only thing I didn't do was that my sack numbers were down."

The move leaves Carolina with no starters from the line that ended last season. Peppers, Tyler Brayton and Hollis Thomas are unrestricted free agents. It points to the Panthers turning to young players despite there being no salary cap next season in the final year of the collective bargaining agreement.

The Panthers offered tenders to restricted free agents Louis Leonard and Tank Tyler on Wednesday, and they signed fellow defensive tackle Ed Johnson last month. They also have high hopes for defensive ends Everette Brown and Charles Johnson.

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press.

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