Carolina Panthers

Hey, Dave Gettleman, don’t botch end game with Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis

Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis wants to keep playing beyond this season, when he’ll be 34. Regardless, he’s among Panthers’ all-time greats.
Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis wants to keep playing beyond this season, when he’ll be 34. Regardless, he’s among Panthers’ all-time greats. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Dave Gettleman has turned the exit interview into a melodrama during his four-plus years as the Carolina Panthers’ general manager.

To paraphrase Night Ranger – and why wouldn’t you paraphrase the ’80s band from San Francisco? – Gettleman has never been much good at goodbye.

Jon Beason. Steve Smith. DeAngelo Williams.

All were long-tenured players and fan favorites who were summarily shown to the exit ramp at Bank of America Stadium.

Thomas-Davis(3)
Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis has made his first two Pro Bowls and improved in almost every statistical category since signing a contract extension two seasons ago. Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Even when another popular Pro Bowl player decided to retire as a Panther, Jordan Gross used the occasion of his retirement press conference to point out he didn’t like Gettleman much after he was hired in 2013. (Gross also has said he would have played another year had Gettleman not asked him to take a pay cut, which would have spared fans from the 15 games Byron Bell started at left tackle in 2014).

All of that is presented as a way of introducing this point: Gettleman cannot screw up Thomas Davis’ eventual departure.

Because as beloved as Smith and the other aforementioned players were by Panthers nation, Davis is on another level – like build-him-a-statue-when-he-retires level.

When Davis signed a two-year extension before the 2015 season, he said he thought he’d be ready to step away from football after the 2017 season.

But in the two years since, all Davis has done is earn the first two Pro Bowl berths of his 12-year career while establishing single-season highs in interceptions, sacks, forced fumbles and fumble recoveries.

Not surprisingly, Davis, 34, wants to keep playing.

“That’s something all players in the last year of their deal, especially for guys who have put up the numbers I’ve put up and played the way I’ve played the last few years, you’d hope something get worked out,” Davis said during an interview on WFNZ’s Primetime with Chris Kroeger on Thursday.

“We’re not actively talking now,” Davis added. “But hopefully we can do something before training camp happens.”

Attempts to reach Davis on Friday were unsuccessful. Based on people I’ve talked to, my bet is something gets done this summer.

Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis talks about the team's game Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons and the last time the team will play in the Georgia Dome.

Not the only one in line

Davis is not the only Panthers veteran who wants a extension before players report to Spartanburg in less than four weeks. Greg Olsen, the only tight end in NFL history to pass three consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons, thinks his contract should better reflect his standing among the league’s best tight ends.

Olsen has two years remaining on his deal. Davis has one.

Advantage, Davis.

Navigating the end of players’ careers is tricky business for a general manager. Gettleman has indicated he’d rather err on the side of caution in parting with players before their skills begin to erode.

And while Smith demonstratively showed the Panthers firsthand how much he had left, Gettleman made the right call in cutting ties with Beason and Williams before injuries forced them into retirement or – in Williams’ case – pro wrestling.

Davis has started all 35 games for the Panthers since signing his extension in 2015. Not the least of those was Super Bowl 50, in which Davis played with a broken arm that further added to the TD lore.

What’s a metal plate and a sleeve of fresh stitches to a player who successfully came back from three ACL surgeries in his right knee?

Not yet time to ride into sunset

Whether it’s those three knee reconstructions or simply old age, Davis has slowed a bit when he’s forced to turn and run in coverage. But when he’s running toward the flat or the line of scrimmage, Davis still gets to the ball-carrier plenty fast enough – and always in a bad mood.

Davis is much more agreeable off the field, particularly when it comes to helping low-income students in the Carolinas and in his hometown of Shellman, Georgia.

Davis, the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year two years ago, will host his third annual Ultimate Queen City Car and Bike Show on Saturday to benefit his Defending Dreams Foundation.

Davis’ car collection includes a Rolls-Royce and a 1975 Chevrolet Caprice convertible, which he’s tricked out in Panthers’ colors, team logos and his jersey number.

Someday Davis can roll the top down in his Chevy and ride off into the sunset.

But Gettleman has to make sure that someday comes in Charlotte – and not for another year or two.

Joseph Person: 704-358-5123, @josephperson

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