CHARLOTTE – As Shaq Thompson was posing for his contract signing photo, his fiancé leaned in to make a quick adjustment.
Thompson was wearing a photo of his late mother around his neck and his fiancé wanted it to be more visible for the image that was soon to be shared on social media.
"Thanks," Thompson said softly just before the camera clicked.
It's been an emotional year for Thompson, losing his mother during his first season as a full-time starter in the NFL.
And Saturday was an emotional day with his family by his side as he put pen to paper on a four-year contract extension.
"It means everything," Thompson said. "What this organization has done for me and my family, it's just tremendous. Now it's time to go to Atlanta and go get this game."
Before grabbing his things and heading onto the bus to the airport, Thompson spent a few minutes reflecting.
The former first-round pick had to be patient when he first arrived in 2015. Carolina's linebacker room was already stacked with Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis leading the way.
Thompson was tasked with learning behind Davis while he worked his way into the mix. A lot of players would have pouted. Thompson never approached it that way.
"No doubt. At times, I was frustrated, like, 'Man I want to play,'" Thompson said. "But I understood we had a veteran guy who was playing at a high level. I have nothing but respect for TD. I called him and let him know before this got out there. He was excited and happy for me. Same with Luke.
"This organization really waited to see what I could become," Thompson continued. "They understood when I was a rookie that I could come in and learn behind TD and Luke and A.J. (Klein). That allowed me to learn the game and develop a lot more. From college to the NFL – those first two years for me everything was happening really fast. Now the game has slowed down for me. They allowed me to learn and develop. It's a blessing."
Things are changing in Carolina. The Ron Rivera era just ended after almost nine seasons, and the franchise needs a core of players to lead the team into the next chapter.
Thompson is proud to be a member of that core.
"It feels good. It shows they have trust in me and faith in me to go on with the future of this young team that we have," Thompson said. "They see that I can help and I can be a part of the leadership of this group. That's really big for me. They showed loyalty and love towards me and my family. I was able to show them that I have potential. This is my first year being a starter and I've been able to show what I can do.
"I want them to know I'm going to give it my all. This is just the beginning for me."
View the top photos of linebacker Shaq Thompson during his fifth NFL season.