Carolina Panthers

Inside the Panthers locker room on cleanout day: Time keeps moving, questions linger

Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis looks forward to the offseason

Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis discusses his potential offseason movement and the balance between loyalty and business.
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Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis discusses his potential offseason movement and the balance between loyalty and business.

It is always an odd scene on Carolina Panthers locker clean out day, and Monday 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 up their remaining personal and professional 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, in front of lockers for personal items and otherwise for old gloves and shoes. Backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke, himself placed on injured reserve after his lone start of the year in Week 16, is the only player present, fiddling with his cell phone.

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 without conducting an interview.

9:12 A.M.: Head coach Ron Rivera walks through the Panthers locker room 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.

9:15 A.M.: Heinicke and third-string quarterback Kyle Allen, who played most of the Saints game before also exiting with a shoulder injury, side-step a box full of old gloves on their way to the training room. Allen is wearing a bright pink sweater and a beige beanie.

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Boxes and goodbyes dominate the scene in the Carolina Panthers locker room on move-out day after a disappointing 7-9 season. Scott Fowler sfowler@charlotteobserver.com

9:17 A.M.: Rookie safety Rashaan Gaulden and veteran Eric Reid swing by their lockers as a random cell phone rings in the distance. Cornerback James Bradberry, wearing socks and slides, does the same a minute later.

9:22 A.M.: By this point, several players have entered the locker room as team meetings begin to wrap up. Tight end Chris Manhertz, the beneficiary of Christian McCaffrey’s trick-play touchdown in Week 15, packs a pair of oversized Nike’s back into the box.

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.

9:25 A.M.: Wright, in a bright red Arkansas sweatshirt, addresses the media.

“It was a great start, we started 6-2, and then we surrendered what, seven straight after that? So it was like a roller coaster,” Wright said. “You start off high, then you go low, and then you finish the way we did yesterday with the win against a good football team. It was like a roller coaster ride, and we will be better next year.”

9:28 A.M.: Injured kicker Graham Gano, another key Panther who didn’t finish the season, is surrounded by reporters as Wright finishes speaking. His black hat peeks out of the scrum of cameras and microphones.

9:29 A.M.: Tight end Greg Olsen, who had season-ending 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.

Mario Addison also speaks to reporters as Olsen scoots away. His shirt reads, ‘God First, Family, Then Football.’

“I soaked in all the knowledge from (free agent defensive end Julius Peppers), and I’m still learning from him,” Addison said. “A guy like him, I could see him playing 2, 3 more years, just because he’s a freak of nature. I’m excited about whatever he’s gonna do, and I’m going to support him no matter what.”

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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.”

9:42 A.M.: Rookie linebacker Jermaine Carter rushes out of the locker room, trying not to let his oversized box of possessions slip out of his hands. McCaffrey is at his locker, sitting and scrolling on his phone.

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.

“If I’m not able to come back and play here, I’ll still have a decision to make. So at the end of the day, I still control the narrative, whether it’s coming back and playing here or making the decision to go and try to play somewhere else,” Davis said. “That’s still me controlling the narrative and it’ll be on my own terms, so I don’t really want to think about a scenario where that actually happens.

“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 becoming one.”

Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis on whether he'll retire, return, or possibly play for a different NFL franchise to extend his career.

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.”

9:56 A.M.: Addison, who shares a locker with free agent Julius Peppers, leaves the locker room. Heinicke follows, and says, “I’ll be here,” as he exits.

9:57 A.M.: Defensive tackle Kyle Love, one of the team’s many impending free agents, stops to answer reporters’ questions. The gauntlet in his locker all season, a replica of Thanos’ Infinity Stone glove from the new Marvel: Avengers movies, is finally packed into its box.

“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 also adds that he thinks Peppers, one of the NFL’s oldest players, will be back for another season. Peppers is currently a half-sack 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.”

10:04 A.M.: Heinicke is back at his locker, packing, when receiver Torrey Smith stops to say goodbye.

10:07 A.M.: Allen finally leaves, too. When asked how his shoulder is feeling the day after he completed 16-of-27 passes for 228 yards and two touchdowns before exiting the game early with an injury, Allen says, “It’s getting better.”

10:10 A.M.: Recently signed running back Travaris Cadet asks rookie corner Donte Jackson to sign a football for him on his way out of the building.

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. Adams also drops one of the balls, and a reporter picks it up for him.

“I’ll dance at your wedding for that,” Adams jokes.

10:12 A.M.: Left guard Greg Van Roten, one of the team’s few every-game starters, throws on his raincoat and leaves.

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 seven-game 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.

Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera on the potential for the offense, Julius Peppers' future.

“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 also adds that he 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 ultimately 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.”

10:21 A.M.: McCaffrey sits at his locker and jokes with lingering reporters about his coming offseason. A signed Thomas Davis jersey, with a full letter written in the No. 58, sits behind him in his locker.

10:22 A.M.: The Carolina Panthers locker room officially closes — and so too does the team’s 2018 season.

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