NEW ORLEANS – Ryan Kalil is finished. Julius Peppers may be, too. Thomas Davis isn’t.
After the Panthers wrapped up their 2018 season with a 33-14 win over the Saints, the 14-year veteran linebacker reiterated he wants to keep playing in 2019. But if he doesn't sign a new deal in Carolina, would Davis actually suit up in another team’s uniform?
“I don't even want to think about that,” he said. “My whole mindset and everything I want to do is totally surrounding coming back and playing here. Hopefully they share that same sentiment.”
General Marty Hurney drafted Davis and gave him his latest contract extension before the 2017 season. But with that contract set to expire in March, Hurney now has to weigh all Davis has done with what Hurney believes Davis has left.
“Nothing's going on,” Davis said when asked if the Panthers have started talking to him about coming back next season. “It's one of those things where you just kind of get into the offseason. There's an evaluation process that has to take place.
“I know we have a ton of free agents on this football team, so there's a lot of guys that we have to get taken care of. I'm very understanding of that. I've been around the game for a long time, so we'll see what happens."
Davis is the Panthers' all-time leading tackler. He’s the leader of the defense. He’s an NFL Man of the Year. But he'll turn 36 in March, and while he averaged more than six tackles per game this season, Father Time slows everyone down eventually.
Last January, Davis announced this would be his final year. But then came a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drugs policy followed by a disappointing 7-9 season. Davis doesn’t want to go out that way. He also doesn’t want to leave Carolina – a choice that's not entirely in his hands.
“This is my first time, if it happens, going into free agency. I've never been a free agent. It's crazy enough to think about that with this being my 14th year in this league, but … ” Davis said before pausing to gather his emotions “ ... I hope that it gets worked out.
“I've said it time and time again and I'll say it again, ‘My heart is here, this is where I want to be and I can't see myself playing for another team.’”