The Carolina Panthers are releasing defensive end Charles Johnson, the team announced in a statement released on Thursday. Johnson has been with the team for nine seasons but his cap number has become burdensome in recent years. The 29-year-old was set to count for $15.02 million against the salary cap in 2016. Releasing him frees up $11 million in savings, according to Over The Cap.
"Charles was an impact player for the Carolina Panthers for a long time, both on and off the field," General Manager Dave Gettleman said in the team's statement. "His statistics speak for themselves, and as a team captain he led the way you want your leaders to lead – by example. I wish him the best moving forward."
Johnson has been a mainstay on the defense ever since the Panthers selected him in the third round of the 2007 NFL Draft. He has 63.5 sacks in nine seasons but was slowed by a hamstring injury in 2015, which landed him on the injured reserve/designated to return list. Johnson played just nine games and recorded one sack, his lowest total since his rookie year (when he was active for only three games).
In 2011, Johnson signed a monster contract after a breakout 2010 year when he got 11.5 sacks. The deal was worth $76 million over six years, with $32 million guaranteed and a $30 million signing bonus. The 2016 season was set to be the last year of the deal.
The Panthers entered the offseason with just over $17 million in cap space (per Over The Cap) and needed to free up some money as they try to get Josh Norman signed to a long-term deal. It's entirely possible that Carolina brings back Johnson on a cheaper, short-term contract, but the 29-year-old should have little trouble finding work elsewhere.