Carolina Panthers

Next step in Panthers’ plan for LB Shaq Thompson? It’s already decided, coming soon.

Carolina Panthers linebacker Shaq Thompson started 36 games his first three years and figures to have an even bigger role when Thomas Davis retires after this season – and maybe sooner.

So it’s not a surprise that the Panthers plan to pick up Thompson’s fifth-year option for the 2019 season, which they plan to do according to an NFLsource. That source spoke to the Observer on condition of anonymity because the team has not yet officially made the move.

The fifth-year option for first-round picks was included in the latest collective bargaining agreement and allows teams to keep players at a reasonable price for a fifth season.

For players drafted No. 11 through No. 32 in the first round, their fifth-year option is the average value of the third through 25th highest-paid players at their position.

Last year the fifth-year value for linebackers in the 11-32 draft slots was $8.7 million. Teams have until May 3 to inform players they’re picking up the option.

Thompson, 23, has filled a number of spots for the Panthers since they drafted him with the 25th pick in 2015, primarily outside linebacker and the big nickel.

And while the presence of Pro Bowlers Luke Kuechly and Davis has limited Thompson’s development somewhat, he’s still viewed as an integral part of the defense.

Thompson was instrumental in helping bottle up Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald in the 2015 NFC Championship Game.

Thompson started 14 games last season, missing two games in December with plantar fasciitis in his foot. He finished with 37 tackles and a career-high two sacks.

Joseph Person: 704-358-5123, @josephperson