Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis heard general manager Dave Gettleman’s comments about moving out of the “dollar store” this offseason, and Davis is ready for the shopping to begin.
Davis thinks the Panthers can improve this winter after salary cap constraints limited Gettleman to signing low-cost, middle-tier free agents his first two years in Charlotte.
“It’s going to be interesting to see how things go this offseason,” Davis said Friday. “We’ve had two offseasons where we didn’t do a whole lot in free agency. But we’ll see what happens this year.”
Davis, in Phoenix as a finalist for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, said he was “very encouraged” by Gettleman’s remarks about having more flexibility in free agency.
“Because you know that’s going to make us a better team. That’s what it’s all about,” Davis said. “When we have a better group going in and we’re able to get in and work together, then we’re going to be a better team.”
Davis said the Panthers took another step in 2014 by becoming the first repeat champion in the NFC South and making the playoffs in back-to-back years for the first time in franchise history.
But Davis wants more.
“Now it’s time for guys to start thinking bigger than that. It’s all good to make the playoffs. We hadn’t done that in our organization ever, two years in a row in the playoffs,” Davis said. “But now it’s all about doing whatever we can to take that extra step ... to make sure that we end our season next year in the Super Bowl as champions.”
This is the second year in a row Davis is a finalist for the Payton award, which honors players’ charitable work and is named for the late Chicago Bears running back. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers and San Francisco receiver Anquan Boldin are the other finalists. The winner will be announced Saturday.
Davis is coming off another strong season. A year after making a career-high 123 tackles, Davis finished with 100 tackles and 2.5 sacks and teamed with Luke Kuechly to form one of the league’s best linebacking tandems.
Davis, who turns 32 in March, believes the time he missed recovering from three surgeries on his right knee reduced the wear and tear on the rest of his body. Davis missed all or parts of three seasons from 2009-11 before becoming the first player in NFL history to return from three ACL reconstructions.
“I didn’t take the beating that most guys would as a 10-year guy, just because I had those two-and-a-half years off,” said Davis, the Panthers’ longest-tenured player. “My shoulders, my neck, all of that stuff is not hurting like most guys would at this point.
“That’s where I feel I’ve gained a couple years, not necessarily with the legs. But my body feels good right now.”
Davis said he ran sub-4.5 times in the 40-yard dash after his first two surgeries. According to Davis, Panthers scouts timed him at 4.47 and 4.43 seconds during the combine-style workouts that former coach John Fox held during the offseasons.
Davis has only one year left on a contract that will pay him $7.25 million this season, with a $10 million cap figure. Davis says the Panthers have yet to approach him about an extension, but he’s not concerned.
“They have plenty of time and they have a lot of other guys that they have to focus in on that are up right now,” he said. “I’m not one of those guys. I’m pretty sure if they feel the need to address that situation, they’ll address it.”
But Davis says he’s not slowing down, and plans to play “until my body or the organization tells me we can’t do it anymore.”
“But for right now I’m going to take this thing one year at a time and continue to grind it out,” he said. “I feel good.”