Two more Carolina Panthers offensive linemen are leaving the game on their own terms.
Guard/center Geoff Hangartner, who had three stints with the Panthers in nine seasons, and four-year guard/center Jeff Byers announced their retirements Tuesday.
Hangartner’s decision follows the retirement of Pro Bowl left tackle Jordan Gross, who stepped down two weeks ago after an 11-year career. It’s not unexpected: Hangartner, who will turn 32 this month, was cut by the Panthers last August before returning in November after a spate of injuries to their guards.
“I’ve known for a while I was going to retire. I knew when I came back this was going to be my last year,” Hangartner said during a phone interview from Texas. “It was a good way for me to end because I got to come back and play for a team I loved playing for and finish out with my buddies. Luckily we had some success, which made it even more fun. It was a fitting way for me to end my career.”
Hangartner, the Panthers’ fifth-round pick in 2005, played 118 games, with 85 starts. He was a rookie on the 2005 team that advanced to the NFC Championship Game, started eight games on the ’08 playoff team and played in eight games this past season as Carolina snapped a five-year postseason drought.
Hangartner spent seven seasons with the Panthers, sandwiched around a two-year stint with Buffalo.
Byers, 28, an unrestricted free agent, signed with the Panthers in 2011 and saw his first action against Chicago during 2012. He was placed on injured reserve midway through last season with a foot injury.
Besides his work in the trenches, Hangartner had three kick returns for 42 yards during 2007 when he fielded short kickoffs while positioned as a wedge blocker, a position since outlawed. Hangartner has a photo someone gave him of one of his returns.
But he said mostly he’ll remember his friends – Gross, center Ryan Kalil and guard Travelle Wharton, in particular – and the good times.
“I had a great experience in the NFL. A lot of guys don’t have as much fun as I did playing,” Hangartner said. “I probably could have played another year or two and scratched around, (as a) seventh (line)man somewhere. I just wanted to remember my experience the way it was.”
Hangartner said he plans to spend to several months with his wife and 5-month-old daughter, and trying to get his golf handicap down to scratch.
He has had overtures about coaching but isn’t sure what he wants to do now that he’s “grown up.”
Hangartner senses a changing of the guard in the Panthers’ locker room. Wharton also is considering retirement, and the team is shopping longtime receiver Steve Smith and could cut him by the end of the week.
Hangartner said he thinks the Panthers will be a younger team next season, built around quarterback Cam Newton and middle linebacker Luke Kuechly.
“That’s the right thing to do,” Hangartner said. “That’s just the cycle in the NFL and one of the things that happens – old guys are replaced by younger guys.”
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