Carolina Panthers Opinion: Chris Gamble release saves money, comes at price


The Carolina Panthers are now under the cap after releasing star veteran cornerback Chris Gamble, and now the Panthers can breathe much easier financially after having the second-worst cap situation in the NFL behind the New York Jets. Releasing Gamble allows the Panthers to focus on pressing needs on their roster, and it could help them sign a top wide receiver to pair with Steve Smith- a receiver like Mike Wallace of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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But the problem with releasing Gamble is that, paradoxically, it comes at a great cost. The Panthers are in a better position to fix needs like wide receiver, but releasing Gamble creates a new, quite large need in the secondary. Sherrod Martin should still be back next season, but there is a chance the Panthers don’t keep him after the injury last year. Charles Godfrey can cover, but his big issue is tackling, and the Panthers situation at safety is questionable.

By releasing Gamble, the Panthers situation at cornerback is even more uncertain than at safety, and the Panthers could use another CB after Gamble’s release. They could go through the draft, but I have a hard time seeing this team trotting out Josh Thomas, Josh Norman, and Captain Munnerlyn as the team’s top three CBs.

Munnerlyn is set to hit free agency, and I can’t see the Carolina Panthers letting this guy go after releasing Chris Gamble. Thomas showed potential last season, but I was much less than impressed with Norman. He allowed 67.5% of all passes to be completed when in coverage, and the Pro Football Focus also tabbed him with a 96.4 QB Rating allowed in coverage. That’s not quite good enough for a starting cornerback on the outside, so I would think the Panthers would get another CB to avoid starting both Norman and Thomas.

The big issue here is that Gamble was one of the best players on the Panthers, and he was the second-best corner in the NFL in 2011 behind only Darrelle Revis. Gamble is a lockdown corner with good size, and he showed his terrific ability in coverage in 2011 by allowing a meager 53.3 QB Rating against. That sort of ability to take the opposition’s best wideout and shut him down is incredibly valuable, and that’s the sort of value the Panthers are losing.

It was a tough call for the Panthers, and it might have been their only option since they want to keep both DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Losing Gamble leaves a huge void in the secondary, it makes cornerback a need for this team (unless if they want to be very weak back there), and they lose one of their best players and a guy who could be a true shutdown corner.

We’ll see how health and age affect him, but Gamble will most likely have a ton of suitors headed for him this offseason. He is one of the best cornerbacks set to hit the market, and teams like the Detroit Lions are reportedly interested. I don’t think former Panthers coach John Fox will be bringing Gamble to the Denver Broncos, unless if Gamble and Fox can reconcile after Fox threw Gamble into the doghouse in his final year in Carolina. It was Ron Rivera, of course, who helped reignite a spark in Gamble’s play in 2011.

Losing Gamble was probably worth it from a bottom-line perspective given what the Panthers cap situation was and who else they want to keep, but they had better use that cap money to help other areas of the team significantly in order to make Gamble’s release worth it. This guy is a legitimate No. 1 cornerback, and losing him leaves the team with a No. 2 corner and two uncertain commodities at the position. Thomas can be a viable corner, but Norman still has a lot left to prove.

You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.