If this was Captain Munnerlyns last trip with the Panthers, it was a fun one.
Munnerlyn, a fifth-year cornerback who is eligible for free agency for the first time, returned Saturday from a week in the Caribbean on the Panthers annual fan cruise.
He joined linebacker Luke Kuechly, offensive linemen Geoff Hangartner and Jeff Byers and tight ends Richie Brockel and Gary Barnidge on the seven-night cruise, which included stops in Grand Turks, Jamaica and the Bahamas.
Munnerlyn said it was a relaxing week despite the fact that his future with the team remains in doubt.
It was a great experience. Hopefully, I can go back next year, he said, laughing.
With the Panthers expected to cut Chris Gamble to get under the salary cap, Munnerlyn would seem to be a priority for new general manager Dave Gettleman.
Releasing Gamble would leave the Panthers with three cornerbacks, all with two years of experience or fewer Josh Thomas, James Dockery and Josh Norman.
Munnerlyn, 24, has started 34 games in four years in Charlotte, including 25 the past two seasons. A seventh-round pick from South Carolina in 2009, he tied a team record in 2012 by returning two interceptions for touchdowns.
Munnerlyn said hed like to remain with Carolina, but isnt sure whether hell be eligible for the team cruise next year.
I really dont know. My agent met with them at the combine, he said in a phone interview Monday. Right now were still over the cap. I dont know whats going to happen.
The diminutive Munnerlyn often was a target his first two seasons, when opposing quarterbacks would go after him when he was matched against bigger receivers.
But the 5-foot-8, 190-pound Munnerlyn has found a home at nickel corner, where he lined up against slot receivers and faced fewer mismatches than he did on the outside.
He is also a capable punt returner who averaged 9.9 yards per attempt as the Panthers primary returner his first two seasons.
Munnerlyn said hes read the reports that Gamble will likely be a salary cap casualty.
I hate to see Chris Gamble go because he still has a lot of great football left in him, Munnerlyn said. But if they let Chris go, theyll probably have to bring me back. Its hard to go with a lot of young corners, unless they want to go out and get another free agent corner.
But I think this organization has been built around taking care of their own guys.
Given the Panthers cap situation theyre about $3.5 million over the $123 million cap Gettleman likely will wait to see what the market is for Munnerlyn before deciding whether to re-sign him. Munnerlyn could draw interest within the NFC South, according to league sources.
His contract uncertainty made for some awkward moments aboard the cruise ship when fans asked about the upcoming season.
I didnt know what to tell the fans, Munnerlyn said. My hearts in Carolina. I want to stay in Carolina. But at the same time, its a business and its about being productive. I feel like this past season I had a good year and hopefully I can get a good contract from it.
Munnerlyns inclusion on the fan cruise is no guarantee that contract will come from the Panthers.
Offensive lineman Mackenzy Bernadeau was one of the players who made the trip last year. He signed a free agent contract with Dallas not long after returning to shore.
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