One of the most discussed off-field issues surrounding the Carolina Panthers during the offseason became reality on Thursday, with veteran wide
receiver Muhsin Muhammad providing relief to the team's salary cap squeeze by restructuring his contract.
The Panthers created about $1.87 million in needed cap room by redistributing the $4.4 million in compensation that Muhammad is due for the 2004
season and by adding another year to a deal that was set to expire next spring.
Muhammad agreed to reduce his base salary for 2004 to $660,000, the league minimum for a player of his seniority. The Panthers then guaranteed the
difference, $3.74 million, in a signing bonus. By adding an extension year to the deal Carolina created the cap savings.
It is doubtful, barring another restructuring, that the eight-year veteran will be on the roster in '05 to play out the extension, which carries a
base salary of $665,000.
That's because, ESPN.com has learned, the Panthers must pay Muhammad a roster bonus of $10 million in March to retain his services. With that
exorbitant bonus, the salary cap charge for Muhammad in 2005 skyrockets to $12.53 million, a figure Carolina is not about to absorb for a player whose
skills are beginning to decline.
The upshot of Thursday's cap maneuvering: Carolina, which was about $400,000 over the $80.5 million league spending limit and needed to get below the
ceiling by this weekend, gains cap relief. Muhammad, scheduled for unrestricted free agency before signing the contract extension, is still likely to
be on the open market in March.
It is unlikely the Panthers, at this late date, would have released Muhammad had he not agreed to the restructuring. Much earlier in the offseason,
there was speculation that the Panthers might release Muhammad if he did not drop his salary. Both head coach John Fox and general manager Marty
Hurney debunked those rumors and insisted that the team could afford to carry his cap load.
Although a player of diminishing ability, and supplanted by Steve Smith as the team's "lead" wideout, Muhammad remains a starter and solid possession
receiver, and Carolina really has no one ready to step into his starting spot.
By next spring, though, that may not be the case.
Muhammad, 31, has averaged 55.7 catches over the past three years, down from the 88.7-reception average he posted for the three years prior to that.
For his career, he has 485 catches for 6,346 yards and 28 touchdowns in 109 appearances.