"Charles was an impact player for the Carolina Panthers for a long time, both on and off the field," general manager Dave Gettleman said in a statement. "His statistics speak for themselves, and as a team captain he led the way you want your leaders to lead - by example. I wish him the best moving forward."
The move was expected, with Johnson carrying a cap hit of $15 million for 2016 after his play dropped off in 2015. The Panthers will save $11 million toward the cap by releasing Johnson.
Carolina selected Johnson in the third round of the 2007 NFL Draft. He went on to register 63.5 sacks during his nine seasons with team, second only to Julius Peppers in franchise history.
However, Johnson struggled with a significant hamstring injury last season, playing in nine games and registering one sack.
Johnson's play did improve during the postseason, where he had three sacks in three games. But the Panthers' defense appeared dominant without him, and with Carolina right up against the cap, Johnson was expendable.
"Charles has had a very good career as a Carolina Panther and I've enjoyed coaching him the past five seasons," head coach Ron Rivera said. "Charles fought through adversity with his injury last season and set a great example for our locker room as a captain. I have a great deal of respect for Charles as a player and a person and thank him for all the contributions he has made to this team."
The 29-year-old will likely be one of the most in-demand edge-rushers on the open market.