New Carolina Panthers left tackle Matt Kalil went to the Pro Bowl as a rookie with Minnesota in 2012.
Unfortunately for Mike Zimmer, the Vikings coach was still the Bengals’ defensive coordinator at the time.
Kalil’s play was more inconsistent after Zimmer arrived in Minnesota in 2014, although Zimmer said Wednesday that Kalil was improving last year before season-ending hip surgery in September.
“The injury hurt him a lot (last) year,” Zimmer said at the owners meetings. “Going into last season I felt like he was getting better.”
The Panthers signed Kalil to a five-year, $55.5 million deal this month, reuniting him with older brother Ryan and (they hope) solidifying Cam Newton’s blind-side protection.
It was a gamble, given Kalil’s recent struggles. But Zimmer praised the way the former top-5 pick goes about his business.
“Matt’s a great kid. He’s going to work real hard. He’s not going to miss practice. He’s not going to miss games – not until after he had his surgery,” Zimmer said. “I think Matt has a big upside.”
Kalil is one of three former Vikings acquired by the Panthers this offseason. They also signed wideout Charles Johnson, a restricted free agent whom Minnesota did not tender, and nickel back Captain Munnerlyn, who played for the Panthers from 2009-2013.
The Vikings were interested in keeping Munnerlyn, but he returned to Carolina on a four-year, $17 million deal. Munnerlyn gives the Panthers an experienced nickel to play alongside second-year corners James Bradberry and Daryl Worley.
“He’s a very smart nickel player that will go in there and use every means possible to cover the slot guys,” Zimmer said. “Good, tough, competitive kid. He was there before so they know him pretty good.”