In the locker room, questions still linger
It is always an odd scene on Carolina Panthers locker clean out day, and the Monday after the last game this season was no different.
Less than 24 hours after the team’s season-ending 33-14 victory over the New Orleans Saints, players were at Bank of America Stadium packing up their belongings for the offseason. Here’s what it looked like, from the inside:
8:34 A.M.: Undrafted rookie guard Brendan Mahon, who suffered a concussion and was placed on injured reserve earlier in December, is one of the first out of the building, hauling a cardboard box to his car while trying to avoid Charlotte’s morning rain.
9:09 A.M.: The entire Panthers locker room is opened to the media. Large cardboard boxes are strewn everywhere.
9:10 A.M.: Offensive coordinator Norv Turner stumbles into the locker room briefly, but when greeted by members of the media opts to leave.
9:12 A.M.: Head coach Ron Rivera walks through and smiles.
9:14 A.M.: Wide receiver Devin Funchess, who started the year as the team’s No. 1 target but was a healthy inactive for the season finale, strolls through the back of the room and right out the front. He declines interview requests.
9:17 A.M.: Rookie safety Rashaan Gaulden and veteran Eric Reid swing by their lockers. Cornerback James Bradberry, wearing socks and slides, does the
same a minute later. 9:22 A.M.: Several players have entered the locker room as team meetings wrap up. Quarterback Cam Newton finally appears a minute later carrying his jersey. As he goes by the wide receivers in the room, Curtis Samuel and Jarius Wright laugh at Newton. “You shouldn’t have!” Samuel jokes as Newton walks by with a No. 1 jersey. 9:29 A.M.: Tight end Greg Olsen, who had seasonending surgery on his twice-fractured right foot, rolls in. His leg still rests on a rolling scooter, and he’s still wearing a signature beanie. “I’ll be back,” he says, before rolling himself back away from his area.
9:36 A.M.: Special teams captain Colin Jones drops a few pairs of cleats into a box, while nearby nickel Captain Munnerlyn meets with reporters. Munnerlyn’s locker is next to linebacker Thomas Davis’, who is a free agent after this season.
“Me being an older guy, it definitely gets harder coming in on a day like this,” Munnerlyn said. “You never know how much this team is going to change and things like that, so definitely a hard day.”
9:50 A.M.: Davis finally speaks to the media, reiterating that he would like to be back with the team next season and that he still knows he can contribute. He also adds that he cannot see himself with any other team, nor did he have a clear timetable for when his future will be resolved.
“You can’t put a timeline on things. Like I said before, I ain’t ever been a free agent, so not really looking forward to becom-
9:53 A.M.: Punter Michael Palardy says goodbye to friends on the team. Asked what’s next for him, Palardy replies, “Time to be dad of the year.”
9:57 A.M.: Defensive tackle Kyle Love, one of the team’s many impending free agents, stops to answer reporters’ questions.
“Most definitely I want to come back. I love this organization, it’s been great for me here,” Love said. “I love the coaching staff here, the city of Charlotte, and I would love to stick around if I can. If they bring me back, I’m ready to roll again.”
Love says he thinks free agent defensive end Julius Peppers, one of the NFL’s oldest players, will be back for another season. Peppers is currently a halfsack away from having the third-most sacks in league history, and he has said he will make a decision on his future after a period of reflection.
Love, grinning: “He’s still got some (football) left in the tank.”
10:11 A.M.: Safety Mike Adams, the team’s second-oldest player and another upcoming free agent, walks in with two clean white footballs of his own. He has backup nickel back Corn Elder sign, then return specialist Kenjon Barner. 10:15 A.M.: Rivera returns, and on the way to another meeting, stops with the media for a few minutes. After speculation this season that Rivera’s job was in jeopardy, especially during the team’s sevengame losing streak after a promising 6-2 start, Rivera says he has met with owner David Tepper and is under the assumption he will be back in 2019.
“If you ultimately think about where Mr. Tepper is coming from, and that’s having been in Pittsburgh where they do things with patience and (are) very direct with things, so I just feel very fortunate,” Rivera said. “I had an opportunity to visit with him, talk with him about things in terms of our preparation going forward, and we’ll continue to do that and I’ll continue to work as we’re working toward next season.
“Again, I don’t want to talk for him, but we’ve met, we’ve talked about going forward and we’ll continue to do that.”
Rivera doesn’t want to speculate on any potential staff changes or Newton’s injured shoulder. Former Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks was fired Monday after just one season as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, so his return is possible after Rivera stripped current defensive coordinator Eric Washington of his play-calling duties midseason.
Rivera did say, however, that whatever the medical staff and Newton decide to do about Newton’s injured shoulder, he’d like any potential procedure done sooner than the last time, when it took several months after the 2016 season ended for Newton to have surgery in 2017.
“Whatever is going to be decided,” Rivera said, “I’d like to see them do right away, whatever it is.”
10:22 A.M.: The Carolina Panthers locker room officially closes — and so too does the team’s 2018 season.
Boxes and goodbyes dominate the scene in the Carolina Panthers locker room on move-out day after a disappointing 7-9 season.