KAPOLEI, Hawaii Panthers left tackle Jordan Gross traveled nearly 5,000 miles and crossed four time zones this week, but still couldnt escape the question:
Will the Pro Bowl be his final game?
Gross again declined to give a definitive answer, saying he needed time to think about things before sitting down with Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman during the offseason.
But based on comments from Gross and Gettleman, it sounds like the ball is in Gross court.
I would assume that the team wants me back, Gross said Wednesday before the second night of the Pro Bowl draft. My relationship with the team is outstanding. I never wanted any type of suggestion that it was anything other than that.
Gross, 33, the third-longest tenured player in Panthers history, has said repeatedly the only team he will play for is the Panthers.
Given the Panthers are picking 28th in the draft, where there doesnt appear to be a sure-fire successor for Gross, and the fact Gross is still playing at a Pro Bowl level, its unlikely the team will be pushing him into retirement.
Gross future has been a topic of conversation since last offseason when he agreed to restructure his contract to help the teams salary cap situation. Gross deal automatically voids Feb. 7, making him a free agent.
Gettleman spoke with Gross on Monday to ask if he wanted to go to Hawaii. Gross, making his third Pro Bowl appearance, was a replacement for San Francisco tackle Joe Staley, one of eight 49ers who pulled out of the game.
Gettleman said this week he plans to talk with Gross after he returns from Hawaii.
I told him enjoy your time, have fun, and when youre ready. And he gave the indication it wont be tomorrow, or the day he gets back, but itll be in the next couple weeks that we talk, Gettleman said.
And hes got to really want to do it. You remember when (Brett) Favre was going, Im in, Im out, Im in, Im out, Gettleman added. The thing he said that really said it all was Sundays are fun. Its what you have to do to get to Sunday.
Gross said he doesnt want to be a distraction, and wouldnt play if his heart isnt in it anymore.
It does take a lot to do your job well and I would never cheapen football by signing up for something unless I was 100 percent into it, Gross said. My 2013 season is still continuing. I had one week off and now Im back, busy. My relationship with Gettlemans great. Im looking forward to speaking to him and seeing what their plans are and what mine are.
Before he restructured his contract last March, Gross was set to play through the 2014 season. After several losing seasons, Gross was a leader on a Panthers team that went 12-4 this season and won the NFC South for the first time in five years.
Gross, whose 167 starts are the most in team history, said hes had a fulfilling career.
Ive been to a Super Bowl. Ive been in the Pro Bowl. Ive won the division. Ive been 2-14. Ive been carted off the field. Ive been celebrated off the field, Gross said. Ive had almost everything happen to me that can happen, short of winning the Super Bowl. I feel like Im a very content person.
A reporter mentioned that sounded like a player ready to step down.
Yeah, but I love the Panthers. I love the organization. Theyve given me and my family a life I never thought we would have, he said. I want to do whats best for me and for everybody.
Center Ryan Kalil, who invited Gross to accompany him to Hawaii before Gross was chosen as a replacement, is glad to be playing with him this week. The two are on Riveras team in the new Pro Bowl format.
Hes a good buddy of mine and teammate, Kalil said. Any time you get to extend that a little bit longer, and obviously you dont know whats going to happen with his future, so its fun to come out here and spend time with him and his family.
Gross said Dana, his wife of 12 years, is happy with whatever he decides because they plan to stay in Charlotte to raise their two children.
So if the Panthers want him back, the decision will be Gross alone.
I never wanted any drama or mysteriousness behind whats happening. I just wanted to play the season and enjoy it, said Gross, who indicated hed be willing to accept a lesser role with the team.
Im not a guy whos going to say, I have to play left tackle or I have to do this or I have to be a starter, Gross added. Theres a ton of situations the team might want me to do, or I might want to do. It all just has to happen over a discussion.
Jonathan Jones contributed.
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