The Carolina Panthers lost an All-Pro guard and Trai Turner lost his (chicken) wing man when Andrew Norwell bolted for Jacksonville for a monster deal in free agency.
Turner and Norwell came into the NFL together in 2014 and bonded over Thursday “wing nights” early in their careers.
But while Norwell’s exit prompted much hand-wringing among Panthers fans, Turner is happy for his former blocking buddy — even if Turner indirectly had a hand in pushing Norwell out the door.
“You realize it’s a business at the end of the day. But it happened the right way in my opinion,” Turner said following Monday’s OTA practice. “And what I mean by that is everybody’s financially stable, everybody’s still on the football field and everybody’s healthy. So that’s all that matters.”
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When Turner signed his four-year, $45 million extension ($20.5 million guaranteed) last summer, it all but guaranteed that Norwell would be making his millions elsewhere. Most NFL general managers aren’t willing to pay two guards big money.
That's what Norwell received from the Jaguars, who will pay him $66.5 million over five years, including $30 million guaranteed.
Norwell’s deal with Jacksonville left the Panthers with a void at left guard, and left Turner, Carolina’s Pro Bowl right guard, without one of his closest friends on the team.
“I’m happy for him, though,” Turner said as he walked off the practice field. “It’s a little different (without him). But bigger picture, we’ll see each other in the offseason.”
Competition for a spot
In the meantime, Turner is eager to see how the competition for Norwell’s former spot shakes out.
Tyler Larsen, who started 15 games over the past two seasons in place of injured center Ryan Kalil, is competing with veteran Amini Silatolu, second-year lineman Taylor Moton and free agent acquisition Jeremiah Sirles.
Turner deferred to the coaching staff when asked about the guard battle on the opposite side of the line.
“I can’t really say much, I’m not evaluating,” he said. “But I know we’ve got some really good guys, so it’ll be good to see how it plays out.”
Panthers coach Ron Rivera pointed out the importance of solid guard play in protecting Cam Newton, noting that interior defensive linemen have the shortest path to the quarterback. Rivera also said Turner has the toughest task of the two guard spots because he’s usually lined up against the opponent’s top interior pass-rusher.
And while Rivera would have liked to have kept both starting guards, he has a great deal of faith in Turner, the former third-round pick who has been to three consecutive Pro Bowls.
“He does a great job for us,” Rivera said. “Again, losing Andrew was a big blow. But we’ve got some guys that have stepped up and look really good out there. But we’re not in pads, yet. So once we get into pads we’ll get a better feel.”
'A little maintenance'
Turner worked with trainers during Monday’s practice while wearing a brace on his left knee. Turner said he was getting “a little maintenance” on the knee, and Rivera said resting Turner during the voluntary practice was a precautionary move.
“Just a little soreness and we just want to be smart because these are OTAs,” Rivera said. “We don’t want it to inflame anything.”
While the Panthers search for Norwell’s replacement, Turner said he felt “a sense of excitement” for his former Thursday night wing man.
Turner said he expects to get together with Norwell at some point this summer. With both now among the NFL’s highest-paid guards (Norwell is No. 1 with a $13.3 million average, Turner is fourth at $11.25), it might be time to upgrade from wings to New York strips.
Either way, Turner knows who’s paying.
“That’s my boy, man. We haven’t eaten in a while, but we talk pretty often,” he said. “I’ve got to see if we go to dinner, (it’s) his treat.”