With center Ryan Kalil locked up contractually through the 2018 season, the Carolina Panthers are now looking to their left.
The Panthers are interested in signing left tackle Michael Oher to a contract extension, according to a league source. Oher is entering the final year on his two-year deal.
The interest signals Carolina is ready to spend some of the money is saved by rescinding cornerback Josh Norman’s franchise tender in April. The Panthers signed Kalil to a two-year deal worth $16.5 million on Monday and are still interested in signing defensive tackle Kawann Short to a long-term deal, even though Short will miss this week’s organized team activities while waiting for that deal.
“It would show that the organization believes in me,” Oher said of the specter of an extension. “I still have to prove myself. I’m still just trying to prove myself to them and just make sure I’m one of these guys because they do it right.”
Oher signed a two-year contract worth $7 million during the 2015 offseason. He said he was “left for dead” in Tennessee after an injury-plagued season with the Titans followed five solid seasons in Baltimore.
What he saw in Carolina was the possibility of re-joining offensive line coach John Matsko, with whom he had worked previously in Baltimore. Oher also saw a physical offensive line that worked with various personnel in one of the league’s most complex and versatile offenses .
“They preach fundamentals and technique, and that’s what I believe in,” said Oher, who’s set to make $2.35 million in base salary this season with a $4.5 million cap hit. “Every coach on the staff believes in it, walks through everything and just making sure you’ve got everything down.”
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said that getting Oher with Matsko and assistant line coach Ray Brown has helped Oher redevelop his game after a down year in Tennessee.
“A lot of things we do fit our players,” Rivera said. “We’re not trying to put square pegs in round roles. We’re trying to make sure we fit the talent to what we do and we fit what we do to the talent. I think that’s important. I think that’s what’s helped us bring free agents into here and help them fit our team.”
Asked about his most important move of the 2015 offseason, Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman pointed to Oher, who settled the position after Byron Bell struggled to replace Jordan Gross there in 2014.
“Probably Michael (Oher),” Gettleman said in January. “I know everybody killed me on that one.”
Indeed there were doubts surrounding Oher. He had been more effective at right tackle than left in Baltimore, and he was coming off injuries with the Titans. Compounding the issue was how poor Carolina’s left tackle play had been the year before.
But Gettleman promised he had done his homework on Oher, and it showed in 2015.
Oher was stout in pass blocking last season. He allowed just four sacks during the regular season, according to Pro Football Focus.
But his run blocking left much to be desired.
“I think finishing the block,” Rivera said on what Oher needs to improve . “You watch him and he mounts up very nicely and puts himself in a really good position. But it’s kind of like he has that clock in his head and the clock is a little short.”
Oher knew just what Rivera was talking about.
“He’s exactly right,” Oher said. “That’s what I want to work on this year. Just watching guys on film like Ryan Kalil and Trai Turner, Andrew Norwell and Mike Remmers, they’re finishing past the whistle. I just want to copy those guys this year in the run game and finish like the other guys.”
The Panthers drafted tackle Daryl Williams last year, but he’s being groomed more for right tackle . And having looked in the tackle market in two of the past three offseasons, it’s unlikely Gettleman wants to do it again next offsesason.
Oher wouldn’t say whether an extension is imminent, instead offering a wry smile. But it’s clear this is where he wants to be.
“I’m just sitting back and working, really,” Oher said, “and I’m happy to be here.”