Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short on Monday said emphatically he’s not worried how his slow start might be hurting his market value.
Nor should he be.
Make no mistake, Short’s production has slipped from the Panthers’ Super Bowl season (like most of his teammates). He has one sack through six games, compared to five at this point last season.
NFL insiders say they don’t see the same explosion off the ball Short demonstrated in 2015 en route to 11 sacks -- the most by defensive tackle in team history -- and his first Pro Bowl berth.
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But the 6-foot-3, 315-pound Short remains that rare interior player who is both quick and agile enough to create penetration and big and strong enough to hold up against double-team blocks, which Short is seeing with increasing frequency this season.
Those types of guys gets paid.
At least one industry expert says Short’s quiet start is not going to affect the bottom line when the Panthers re-open negotiations with agent Joel Segal during the offseason.
“I don’t think Joel Segal is going to think this year has hurt his value. He’s going to look at it like he’s established himself as a premiere, interior pass rusher,” said Joel Corry, a former NFL agent. “And if Carolina wants to sign him to a long-term extension, then they’re going to have to pay the going rate for interior pass rushers.”
The going rate was more than the Panthers wanted to spend last offseason after extensions for the Eagles’ Fletcher Cox and the Jets’ Muhammad Wilkerson drove the price tag for defensive linemen to an average of $17 million per year.
Short wanted similar money and was willing to stand his ground going into the final year of his rookie contract. Since-departed cornerback Josh Norman called it betting on himself.
“I’m confident in myself. It’s not really putting nobody to shame,” Short said. “At the same time you know your worth and you know what’s up.”
Short said he hasn’t given a thought to his contract situation since prior to the season -- except when he’s asked about it by reporters.
“That’s not even a focus (for) me right now,” Short said. “Once that was done, it was done. I left that in the office where it happened. The main focus is trying to get wins. I’ve got do better as an individual and as a team as well.”
There are a couple of possible explanations for Short’s drop-off in production.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera says Short has drawn additional blockers because of his success last season. While Short is usually lined up opposite a guard in the Panthers’ 4-3 scheme, he’s now having to fight through a guard and sometimes the center or a running back to get to the quarterback.
“It’s tough because when you watch the tape one of the things that really stands out is how much he does get doubled,” Rivera said. “That back when he goes through the middle, he’s looking for KK and he’s chipping him on his way out. So it’s not like he’s getting the free runs like he had last year.”
Panthers defensive end Wes Horton also mentioned the double-team blocks. But Horton said Short has been slowed by minor injuries, as well.
“I think he’s had small, little lingering injuries here or there that could stop him from being at his best,” Horton said. “They ask a lot out of him and he steps up to the challenge. It’s the nature of the game. You’re going to have little bumps and bruises and stuff that kind of sets you back.”
The only time Short has been listed on the injury report this season was Week 3, when he was limited by a shoulder injury during a practice.
Short, a second-round pick in 2013 from Purdue, believes he can be better at shedding blocks and fighting through the double teams and combo blocks. But he also says there’s more to his position than sacks.
“I’m playing good. But the sack numbers is what everybody sees. And you don’t understand what goes on in the (meeting) room or the individual process of what’s going on,” Short said.
“I had 11, 12 sacks last year,” he added. “Everybody’s expecting me to have 18 sacks now.”
Short is not the only high-profile defensive lineman who failed to come roaring out of the blocks.
The Giants gave Olivier Vernon a five-year, $85 million deal during the offseason, the biggest ever received by a defensive end. Vernon has 23 tackles and one sack despite playing one more game than Short, who has 21 tackles to go with his solitary sack.
“All Short has to do is start producing like he did last year and that will actually elevate his value,” said Corry, who writes about NFL contracts for cbssports.com. “He’s got a track record. If he starts to come back on, the agent’s going to think, ‘I’m asking for more.’”
The Panthers could choose to place the franchise tag on Short if the two sides can’t agree on an extension. The tag for defensive tackles next year will be slightly lower than this year’s $13.65 million tag for the position, according to Corry.
But Horton, who joined the Panthers the same year as Short, says “there’s no question in my mind” the team wants to lock Short up for the long term.
“If you see what KK does day in and day out, he’s a huge piece. There’s some really good defensive tackles in this league. But it’s a rarity to find someone like KK,” Horton said. “If you think he’s slowing down because of the numbers, there’s other little things within the game that he’s helping us get off the field.”