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Captain Munnerlyn would like to return, but Panthers have been mum so far

Joseph Person
Joseph Person covers the Carolina Panthers and the NFL for the Charlotte Observer. You can reach him by email.
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Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
Carolina Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn (41) says he would like to return to the Carolina Panthers, but he hasn’t heard from them about the potential for a new contract. His one-year deal earned him $1.1 million in 2013.

When last week’s snowstorm prevented Carolina Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn from returning to Charlotte from his hometown of Mobile, Ala., Munnerlyn – a LeBron James fan – decided to drive to New Orleans for the NBA All-Star Game weekend.

Munnerlyn plans on being back in Charlotte soon – and would like to stay here after a safe arrival.

For the second offseason in a row, the Panthers seem to be slow-playing Munnerlyn as free agency approaches. Munnerlyn started every game in 2013 and had arguably his best season after signing a one-year, $1.1 million deal to return to the Panthers.

Munnerlyn made USA Today’s list as one of the league’s top 25 free agents, coming in at No. 23. The only other Panther on the list was defensive end Greg Hardy, who is USA Today’s second-ranked free agent (behind New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham) after his 15-sack season.

But with general manager Dave Gettleman saying the Panthers will be cap-challenged for at least two more years, there has been little in the way of contract talks for Hardy or Munnerlyn.

“It’s been real quiet, which is shocking. I don’t know what’s going on. I’m just waiting. I guess they’re going to let everyone hit free agency,” Munnerlyn said in a phone interview Friday. “I don’t think they’ve talked to anybody, yet – not even Greg Hardy. That’s a shocker to me. I guess they’re going to see what the market value of people is and go from there.”

Munnerlyn believes the market will be more bullish for him than last year, when he turned down an initial, three-year deal from the Panthers but found no better offers elsewhere.

Munnerlyn, in his third year as a starter, returned two interceptions for touchdowns for the second consecutive season. And playing in a scheme that requires corners to be good tacklers, Munnerlyn missed three tackles in 932 regular-season snaps, according to Pro Football Focus.

Because of his size, the 5-foot-8 Munnerlyn remains best suited for the nickel spot, lined up against a slot receiver.

“I think I had one of my best years. And I think my market value will be a little bit better than last year,” Munnerlyn said. “I want to stay with the Carolina Panthers because that’s the team that drafted me (in the seventh round in 2009). I love the organization, and I feel that’s the best team that fits me personality-wise. I love the coaching staff. I want to stay there.”

Munnerlyn said the Panthers are scheduled to speak with his agent, Hadley Englehard, at the combine next week.

Four of the Panthers’ top five defensive backs are eligible for free agency: Munnerlyn, free safety Mike Mitchell, strong safety Quintin Mikell and cornerback Drayton Florence.

Mitchell and Munnerlyn are the priorities, and the feeling here is the Panthers will figure out a way to keep them both.

Watershed week in NFL?

A week that started with former Missouri defensive end Michael Sam’s revelation that he is gay ended with Friday’s release of the report by NFL investigator Ted Wells on the bullying case involving Dolphins offensive tackle Richie Incognito.

Wells concluded Incognito and two other linemen – Mike Pouncey and John Jerry – subjected Dolphins offensive lineman Jonathan Martin to “a pattern of harassment,” while also harassing another player (identified as Player A) and a Japanese-born assistant trainer.

According to Wells’ report, Miami offensive line coach Jim Turner “was aware of the running ‘joke’ that Player A was gay, and on at least one occasion, he participated in the taunting.”

Turner gave his linemen inflatable female dolls as a gag gift around Christmas 2012, but gave Player A – identified Saturday as Andrew McDonald, who is now on the Panthers practice squad – a male blow-up doll, Wells found. McDonald was repeatedly called a homophobic slur by teammates.

After two years on the Dolphins’ practice squad, McDonald joined the Panthers’ practice squad in October. He is one of eight players the Panthers signed to a futures contract last month.

It took a lot of courage for Sam to come out in a sport where there has never been an openly gay player. And if the locker room culture described in Wells’ report is representative of the entire league, Sam’s going to have muster up more of it.

Could Boyd be Newton’s backup?

Bringing in celebrity captains for all-star games is suddenly all the rage. After Deion Sanders and Jerry Rice tried to enliven the Pro Bowl proceedings, ex-Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd and former South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw served as honorary captains for Friday’s College All-Star Bowl in Greenville, S.C.

Boyd, the first ACC player to pass for 10,000 yards and run for 1,000, is expected to be a third-day draft pick. Mel Kiper Jr. said recently he views Boyd as an NFL backup, with his chances to be a starter “debatable.”

“I’d say fifth or sixth round right now for Tajh Boyd,” Kiper said a media conference call. “I look at the height factor. Some inconsistency.”

It will be interesting to see if the Panthers show an interest in Boyd, who measured a shade under 6-1 at the Senior Bowl, as a possible backup to Cam Newton. Panthers scouts envisioned Russell Wilson in a mini-Cam role two years ago, but didn’t want to invest a mid-round pick on him.

If the Panthers choose not to re-sign Derek Anderson, Boyd could be an intriguing option in a later round.

A lineman is born

Panthers center Ryan Kalil and his wife, Natalie, welcomed their third child Thursday night – a healthy, 8-pound, 4-ounce boy who has two older sisters.

Frank Kalil, a former center in the USFL, raised a pair of starting NFL offensive linemen in Ryan and Minnesota tackle Matt Kalil. In October, when the Panthers were getting ready to play the Vikings, Frank Kalil had a great quote about the pending arrival of his grandson.

“(Ryan) will try to make him anything but a lineman,” Frank said. “But if I have any say in it ... we’ve got a center and a tackle. We need a guard.”

Person: 704-358-5123; Twitter: @josephperson
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