With a backpack slung over his shoulder, Carolina Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams walked out of Bank of America Stadium on Monday morning perhaps for the last time as a Panther.
Regardless of who the next general manager is, he will have to decide what to do with Williams, who was benched earlier this season and was the subject of trade talks at the deadline. With the Panthers about $16 million over next years projected salary cap, the team will have to part with or restructure the contracts of a few veteran players.
Williams said the ball is the Panthers court.
I guess if any conversation comes up, I guess its on the Carolina Panthers end as far as getting rid of me or just doing nothing, and I come back as a Panther. Theres nothing on my end that I can do, Williams said. When I signed my signature on that dotted line, I was here for five years.
Williams received the five-year, $43 million deal after the lockout in 2011, a year before the Panthers locked up Jonathan Stewart with a six-year, $37.8 million contract. Stewart, 25, is four years younger than Williams, but missed seven games this season with ankle injuries.
With Stewart sidelined for Sundays game against the Saints, Williams carried 21 times for 210 yards, breaking Stewarts single-game record of 206. Both Williams and fullback Mike Tolbert, who had three 1-yard touchdown runs, said it was nice to see the coaching staff commit to the run game.
We have talented running backs in that room. And when you give us the ball, sometimes good things happen, Tolbert said.
MAN OR MACHINE?: A year after breaking an NCAA record with 14 tackles in a game, Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly led the NFL with 164 tackles. Kuechly is the first rookie to do so since Patrick Willis in 2007.
The thing thats very impressive about Luke is he did it in college. He led the NCAA in tackles. He is a tackling machine, Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. But one thing hes developed into also is our on-the-field leader. I dont think I could have asked for a better field general than him as far as our defense was concerned.
Kuechly said he was surprised by how quickly the 17-week season concluded.
You get there in camp and it seems like its going to be a long season, and were sitting here now and the seasons over. It went fast, Kuechly said. There were a lot of ups and downs and we could have played better earlier to give ourselves a shot (to) keep playing.
WATCHING FROM AFAR: Defensive end Greg Hardy missed Sundays game following a death in his family, according to a league source. Hardy, who was excused from practice all week, watched part of the game from a bar near his Charlotte-area home because he doesnt have cable.
Hardy declined to talk about his familys situation, but said he wasnt in the right place emotionally to play.
I had some stuff that had to get done, he said. I definitely wanted to be there, though, especially round 2 with the Saints and Drew Brees. Be there for my guys. They pulled it out for me, so Im kind of happy about that.
KICKING IT: The Panthers attempted a franchise-low 21 field goals, while their field goal percentage of 76.2 ranked 29th in the league.
Graham Gano hit 9 of 11 field goals after replacing Justin Medlock in November. Ganos misses were from 48 and 54 yards.
When they signed me, they told me they were wanting me to be the long-term solution, said Gano, who is under contract for next season. I feel good about the way I performed. I think I can always get better. So Im going to start hitting it hard here pretty soon, getting ready for next season.
INJURED LIST: The Panthers did not provide an update on quarterback Cam Newton, who expected to get X-rays after injuring his ribs and left ankle against the Saints. Offensive lineman Geoff Hangartner, who missed the last three games, will not need surgery on his sprained foot. Hangartner said his Lisfranc injury is similar to, but less severe than the one that sidelined Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil following October surgery.