CHARLOTTE -- The Panthers might not know who's going to be on the end of their defensive line this season, but they know who's going to be in the middle for some time.
As part of their salary cap shuffling measures Wednesday, the Panthers extended the contract of defensive tackle Damione Lewis.
On paper, he's under contract through the 2014 season, though Lewis said that was a bit of a technicality. His pending $2.5 million roster bonus was turned into a signing bonus, and his base salaries were reduced from $3.17 million this year and $4.05 million in 2010 to $2.0 million and $755,000.
The move will clear at least $2 million worth of room on the proration of his bonus over five years, and could be worth more.
"In a lot of ways, it's still the same contract," Lewis said. "I still get what was coming to me, we were just able to spread things out to help with the numbers."
It also provides a measure of security for Lewis, who'll turn 31 on Sunday. He's rehabbing from a recent shoulder surgery, saying one of the muscles in his rotator cuff was torn. He said he expected to begin lifting weights in June, and hoped to be ready to go by the start of training camp. Lewis injured the shoulder in the Dec. 21 game at New York, when the Panthers were playing without nose tackle Maake Kemoeatu. He slid over that night, and blew the shoulder while taking on a double team the much larger Kemoeatu would normally have faced.
He sat out the regular season finale at New Orleans, but came back to play two weeks later in the playoff loss to Arizona.
"Right now everything's going good," Lewis said. "From what they're saying, I should be good to go when camp starts. All I know is, as bad as it sounds, it could have been a lot worse."
LUCAS IN LIMBO: For now, Ken Lucas is still with the Panthers.
The emphasis is on the immediacy of that statement.
Lucas, the 30-year-old cornerback with the $11 million salary cap figure, may still be released by the Panthers today. He wasn't among the first wave of cuts the team issued, and there's a growing talk around the league the Panthers are shopping him.
"Ken's here at this point," Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said, a bit bristly, when asked specifically about Lucas' future in Charlotte. "I'm not going to get into what we're going to do. What I'm going to talk about is what we've done.
"What we're going to do isn't something I want to talk about. We're obviously always working on things, and talking about things, but I'd really rather comment on what we've done at this point, because anything else is speculation."
The Panthers might like to keep him, but the $5.6 million base salary he's due this year is a bit steep for a player his age -- particularly with Richard Marshall waiting in the wings.
It's unlikely the Panthers would get much more than a late-round draft pick in exchange, because of his contract (he's also due $6 million in 2010) and the glut of quality corners on the market.
The Panthers may also try to keep him, with the $4 million bump in the salary cap given to teams Wednesday, which moves the spending limit to $127 million for this season.
FIRST CUTS: The Panthers have parted ways with running back Nick Goings, wide receiver D.J. Hackett and offensive lineman Jeremy Bridges.
The moves saved a combined $4.79 million in cap room, and leaves them thin in at least two spots.
Hackett won't be missed, after catching just 13 passes for 181 yards last season.
But Goings leaves them without a key special teamer and reserve, and Bridges strips away the last veteran offensive line backup.
"Your team takes a different look every year," Hurney said. "We'll have a different look this year as far as our depth goes in some areas. It's just decisions that we had to make. They're always difficult, because all those guys helped us last year."
EXTRA POINTS: The Panthers have until 4 p.m. to tender contracts to their four restricted free agents. They're expected to tender an offer to tight end Jeff King, but it remains to be seen what they'll do with the other three: Safety Nate Salley, linebacker James Anderson and defensive tackle Gary Gibson. With the low tender hitting $1.01 million this year (which would provide compensation at the level the player was drafted at if they signed elsewhere), it's likely they could keep several of them at lower rates.
King may get the second-round tender of $1.545 million, a strategy they used last year with offensive lineman Geoff Hangartner. ...
Speaking of Hangartner, his agent continued to discuss a new deal with the Panthers Wednesday. He's often said he'd like to stay if everything was equal, but would find offers in the marketplace. They're also talking about retaining backup tackle Frank Omiyale. ...
The Panthers also have four exclusive rights free agents to deal with today: Wide receiver Jason Carter, cornerback C.J. Wilson and defensive tackles Nick Hayden and J'Vonne Parker. They can only negotiate with the Panthers, and all would get minimum-wage deals.