CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The start of a new year always represents hope. There’s change, a time for growth and reflection, and a new set of goals for the new year.
For the Panthers - 2019 could see a whole lot of that change.
With the way the last five weeks are going, maybe that’s something you’re looking forward to. But forget about the five game losing streak the Panthers are stuck on now ahead of the Monday Night Football game against the Saints. Don’t focus on the slim playoff hopes that are keeping fans hanging on to a what little bit of hope for 2018 is left. Don’t worry about Cam Newton’s shoulder, and whether or not he’s healthy enough to lead this team on a run IF they are able to turn the season back around.
The reality of this team is, when the season does end so do a lot of big contracts.
According to sportstrac.com, the Panthers have 30 players who will become free agents in 2019, that ties for the third most in the NFL during that time period. Only Arizona and Denver (32) have more.
Sure, not all upcoming free agents are the typical names you know when you think of the Panthers – but if you’re a big time Panthers fan, then ten of them are.
When you think of the Carolina Panthers now and the core group of veterans who have always been the foundation, you might think of guys like Thomas Davis or Ryan Kalil, two players who have spent their entire careers with the Panthers.
Or what about Devin Funchess, the player the Panthers made their top receiver. Or Julius Peppers, the future Hall of Fame defensive end who came back to give it another try at Carolina. Or Eric Reid, who the Panthers signed this year and has since started every game at safety alongside Mike Adams who has become a key part of the secondary. Or maybe, if you’re a big fan, you think of Chris Clark, the guy the Panthers signed off the street to be one of the most valuable players trying to protect Cam. What about the new captain this year Colin Jones. Or key defensive players Kyle Love and Wes Horton.
Those ten players are among the Panthers 2019 free agents.
What’s next for this team will play out over the next three weeks (and potentially sooner if the losing streak continues). But ahead of the end of the season, we sat down to talk with Panthers center Ryan Kalil about what’s next.
Kelsey Riggs: I know since you’re playing you don’t look back a whole lot yet, but this is your twelfth year in the league, twelfth year with the Panthers, is there anything that stands out so far that you’ve been able to do or accomplish here in your twelve years.
Ryan Kalil: I think just staying on this team twelve seasons, it’s not really the norm. So I’ve been fortunate to be drafted here and get to stay here twelve years.
Riggs: It is the last year of your contract, and I know you said in the offseason this was it for you. Is this definitely it for you?
Kalil: I think so, I mean I don’t want to say a thousand percent this is it but for the most part yeah. It’s tough to think about that right now so I’m having a hard time talking about that and putting it in my mind, but for the most part yeah.
Riggs: Your contract is coming up, Thomas Davis’ contract, Mike Adams, Devin Funchess, all the at the end of 2019 and then there’s others too. If there’s going to be a time for you guys, is this it?
Kalil: Well it is for me! I can’t speak for those other guys, but for me it’s got to be now. Absolutely. I think there’s a bit of that that’s driving this team. So for us, it’s about taking that motivation, taking that energy, taking that experience, taking those failures and try to give them to the younger guys and help them understand how hard it is to win in this league. For a lot of those guys you named, that’s what older guys did for us when we first got in the league. For me, theres something special about the fraternity of the NFL with the players ain that you pay it forward by doing what the guys before you did for you.
Riggs: Ryan, I think that’s it. I guess the last thing would just be you are definitely, probably thinking that this is it. Just so that we’re on the same page.
Kalil: This is it. This is it. But I’m just not going to talk about it until this is it. Is that fair?
Riggs: Is it because you don’t want that whole farewell tour?
Kalil: Well, I don’t think I’m getting a farewell tour first of all. I’m not Kobe Bryant. There’s not going to be gifts waiting for me in these cities.
Riggs: A fan farewell tour.
Kalil: I don’t know about that. I think fans just want me to block and keep Cam clean, I don’t think they care about anything else other than that. Nah, I just don’t want to be in that mindset even though this is what I’ve decided to do. So I’ll just pretend it doesn’t exist, until it exists.