Several key Panther contributors to become free agents after the season

We haven’t seen this before here in Carolina: Many key contributors entering the last year of their contracts.

We’re not talking about a couple, we’re talking about several.

Granted, the NFL’s labor situation is far from decided, but several players have contracts that expire after the current season:

CHARLOTTE,NC- AUGUST 21: DeAngelo Williams  of the Carolina Panthers avoids a tackle by Antonio Cromartie  of the New York Jets during a preseason game at Bank of America Stadium on August 21, 2010 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Mary Ann Chastain/Getty Images)

Matt Moore, DeAngelo Williams, Dwayne Jarrett, Jeff King, Donte Rosario and Ryan Kalil on the offense.

Charles Johnson, Ed Johnson, Louis Leonard, Nick Hayden, Thomas Davis, James Anderson, Jamar Williams and Richard Marshall.

By my count, that’s potentially losing 11 out of 22 starters on offense and defense.

Don’t forget the coaching staff, which nearly all of them are also in the final year of their contracts, including head coach John Fox.

It’s widely been speculated that owner Jerry Richardson is trying to prove a point to his fellow owners and the players union but not signing any free agents of note and having the youngest team in the NFL — even with 40-year old John Kasay on the roster.

He’s about to prove a point to the fans as well. If he allows these key players to leave, the fan base will turn on Richardson in a heartbeat. That’s not something that Richardson wants — because after all, he’s always regarded his fans highly. So how did he get into this situation?

Does Richardson know something we don’t? As one of the leaders in the NFL, Richardson has been key in the negotiations with the Players Union. He’s bound to know more details than we do.

And does Richardson intend on starting over with a new coach and new system in 2011? That coach would be able to mold his team the way he wants with free agents … something the Panthers have stated they don’t want to do.

Of the players mentioned above, all but four are Panthers draft picks. You’re also talking about your 2010 starting QB, Pro Bowl center, Pro Bowl RB, two solid tight ends, most of your defensive line, most of your linebacking corps and one of your starting cornerbacks.

In the case of Moore and Williams, I can understand the logic of letting them walk. You’ve got Clausen who should be ready to start by next season and Jonathan Stewart, last season’s leading rusher. Letting them leave wouldn’t be popular (at least at the time of writing this), but you can’t argue with signing a near 30-year old RB to a high dollar deal when you’ve got guys like Stewart, Goodson and Sutton behind him. Letting Moore walk might be even easier depending on how he does this season. But still, if he does well, you are letting a proven guy walk away for nothing in return.

TIme to panic? No. However, looking at the way the Julius Peppers situation went down, it’s kind of scary to think of many of the teams key players leaving with no real plan to replace them.