By Pat Yasinskas ( - The Carolina Panthers moved within striking distance of the NFL's $67.4 million salary cap Wednesday as they released three starters and one backup and restructured at least one big contract.

The Panthers waived franchise interception leader Eric Davis, fullback William Floyd, linebacker Lee Woodall and reserve offensive lineman James Dexter to clear $9.937 million in cap space.

"None of these were easy decisions and this is the most difficult aspect of coaching," coach George Seifert said. "Eric has played a significant role in the history of the franchise and played for me at San Francisco as did William and Lee. It's tough seeing guys like these go."

But the moves were necessary because the Panthers were more than $10 million over the salary cap and must get under it by Friday. The Panthers also lessened what would have been a $9.75 million cap figure by restructuring the contract of defensive tackle Sean Gilbert.

Although the releases and the restructuring of Gilbert will put the Panthers below the cap, the team still is expected to restructure the contract of cornerback Doug Evans and guard Bryan Stoltenberg.

The team may also try to restructure other contracts to make tenders to restricted free agents Donald Hayes, Kris Mangum, Karl Hankton and Damien Richardson today. The Panthers also are likely to gain some cap room if defensive end Reggie White, who is leaning toward retiring, makes an official announcement.

The additional cap space also could be needed for the team to make a final attempt to prevent safety Mike Minter and kickoff returner Michael Bates from becoming unrestricted free agents Friday.

The official announcement of Davis' release signals the departure of one of the most productive players in franchise history. Davis joined the Panthers in 1996 and had five interceptions in each of his five seasons.

Davis had a solid season, but his $6.317 million cap figure was more than the Panthers could handle. By releasing Davis, the Panthers cleared $4.95 million in cap room.

Woodall, who joined the Panthers last year, finished third on the team with a career-high 109 tackles. The Panthers will save $2 million by waiving Woodall. Releasing Floyd, who spent three seasons with the Panthers, will clear $1.7 million. Backup Chris Hetherington played well when Floyd was injured and is likely to become the starter. Tailback Brad Hoover could get a look at fullback.

Dexter, who was signed last year as a free agent from Arizona, was expected to compete for the starting job at right guard. But Dexter suffered an elbow injury in the preseason and never was a factor. Releasing Dexter clears $1.287 million in cap space.

Gilbert, who signed a seven-year, $46.5 million contract in 1998 restructured his contract for the third time. It's believed the reduction, which comes from turning some of his $4.5 million base salary into signing bonus money, is at least $4 million.

ANOTHER OFFER: The Panthers made another offer to Minter. But Minter's agent, Craig Domann, said the offer had some new structuring, but the total value was about the same as the previous five-year, $15million offer. Domann said he still expects Minter to hit the free agent market.

ROBINSON'S FUTURE: Safety Eugene Robinson wants to return to the Panthers, if the team wants him. The Panthers haven't been in contact, but they may need experience if Minter signs elsewhere.