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Panthers in no-lose situation if they use franchise tag on Kawann Short

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The clock officially is ticking on Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short.

Either a long-term deal will be reached before March 1, or the franchise tag will be applied between Wednesday (first official day to use the tag) and then while the two sides continue to work toward a long-term deal.

Coach Ron Rivera said during Super Bowl week that the tag "probably" will be used. It may not be applied Wednesday as Carolina wants to show it is negotiating long-term in good faith.

But ultimately, barring a deal, it will be applied.

Either way, it appears to be a no-lose situation for the Panthers -- unless Short fails to sign the tag and decides to sit out the 2017 season.

You can't rule that out.

Short said after the season that he wouldn't pull a Josh Norman and refuse to sign the tag. But Pro Football Talk, citing a source close to the situation, said last month the 2015 Pro Bowl selection won't quickly sign the tag and may not sign it at all.

One thing Short has made clear, he wants to remain with the Panthers. It seems unlikely he would forego an entire season if Carolina uses the tag.

So why is the tag a no-lose situation for Carolina? First, it would assure Short, a player Rivera already has called an important piece to the defensive scheme, is on the roster in 2017 and playing for a new deal.

It also would assure he's on the roster for the estimated tag cost of $14,770,194. That's well under the Fletcher Cox money Short was looking for prior to last season.

Cox and Muhammad Wilkerson of the New York Jets set the market for top tackles last year when they signed for an average of around $17 million a year.

Cox got a six-year, $102.6 million deal with $63 million guaranteed.

If Short returns to his 2015 form when he had 11 sacks, general manager Dave Gettleman may be willing to pay Cox-type money -- or more -- in 2018. If Short has another season like this past one, when he had six sacks, Gettleman will have a case for less money.

The tag wouldn't hinder the Panthers from reaching a long-term deal with defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, the team's first-round pick in 2013. But it would give tackle Vernon Butler, the team's 2016 first-round pick, time to develop without the pressure of having to start.

If Butler and Lotulelei progress this season, there won't be the pressure on Gettleman to overspend on Short in 2018.

Ideally, the Panthers want to reach deals with Short and Lotulelei this offseason to secure their defensive front long-term. They know Butler is tied up in his rookie deal through 2019, and 2020 should they use the fifth-year option.

The three would be a heck of a long-term combination.

If Short does hold out, Gettleman still has the nucleus for a four-man rotation in Lotulelei, Butler and Paul Soliai for 2017.

None have proven to be as versatile and disruptive at getting to the quarterback as Short, the team's second-round pick in 2013. But Gettleman likely doesn't feel the pressure to overspend on Short as he might if one or two of the other pieces weren't in place.

Not that Gettleman would overspend, even though he has about $50 million in cap space. He's proven to be stubborn with that in the past.

What happened with Norman a year ago is a prime example. The Pro Bowl cornerback didn't sign the franchise tag and didn't show up for the start of voluntary offseason workouts, so Gettleman rescinded the tag.

Norman signed with Washington.

Gettleman never looked back. He uses the same philosophy on free agents that he once advised his wife Joanne to use on shopping the day she came home frustrated with the price of clothing.

"I said, ‘It's simple. Just don't buy them. Get your girlfriends together and don't buy it, and the prices will come down,' " Gettleman said last year.

Short insisted after the season that his situation and Norman's were entirely different. But Short also will be controlled in part by what his agent tells him.

He missed the last six sessions of OTAs a year ago trying to drive talks but showed for the mandatory minicamp, when it would begin costing him money.

Again, Short didn't sound in January like a player looking to hold out, even though at 28 this is his best shot at a big-time deal.

"Everybody would like to avoid that," he said of the tag. "If it happens, it happens. If it happens, I'm still going to be professional about the situation."

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking.