In 2015, Tyler Larsen lived with his parents and worked for his father. His job was to replace sprinkler heads, dig trenches and lay sod.
But on Wednesday, Larsen, 27, signed a 2-year, $4.4 million extension with the Carolina Panthers, with $1.4 million guaranteed, according to a league source.
The team officially announced the news later in the afternoon.
He called his parents and wife, Samantha, to tell them first.
“I’ve been talking to my parents a little bit, and we were talking about when (I lived) in their basement,” laughed Larsen after the Panthers landed in Buffalo ahead of Thursday night’s preseason game. “Trying to make ends meet, trying to get my wife feeling OK because she was pregnant at the time. ... It’s just crazy. It’s really cool to see what has happened now. ... Everything has turned out for the better.”
But in 2015 and parts of 2016, football, Larsen’s lifelong dream, seemed to be gone forever.
A standout center and guard at Utah State, Larsen went undrafted in 2014 and couldn’t quite latch on to a roster. He bounced from Miami to Washington. He was on Carolina’s practice squad in the spring of 2016, and played in one game against Los Angeles in November. All told, he was cut and re-signed 10 times by three different teams in two years.
But facing a “position catastrophe” on the offensive line in which veteran Pro Bowl starting center Ryan Kalil and backup Gino Gradkowski both got hurt, the Panthers called him back in midseason 2016.
They ultimately brought Larsen to their practice fields in San Jose, Calif., halfway through a 10-day, two-game West Coast trip, and he finally stuck. He spent the rest of the season and much of 2017 filling in for Kalil, who battled neck and shoulder injuries.
Larsen was set to become a restricted free agent in 2019.
Now, he’s a part of the team’s plan for the future.
“I owe a lot, pretty much everything to my coaches helping me get to where I am,” he said. “And it just happened so fast. You can’t skip a beat. I feel like I took advantage of the situation I was in, and now I feel like I’ve laid a little bit of a foundation.”
It’s a long way from laying sod.
Larsen is a straightforward, earnest guy who likes the simple things in life. His first checks from the Panthers went toward paying off his house, and then they went in the bank.
So while this deal is an absolute bargain for the Panthers, who needed a plan with Kalil entering his last season and an inflating interior offensive lineman market, it is life-changing for Larsen and his wife.
Carolina also got some insurance at both guard positions. Larsen can fill in in a pinch there, and on Tuesday the team announced that starting left guard Amini Silatolu will undergo surgery to repair a torn meniscus. So he might well be needed.
The Panthers will start undrafted free-agent rookie Brendan Mahon at left guard on Thursday night against Buffalo, and Larsen will play the majority of snaps with the starters at center, though Kalil will likely start the game.
As for Larsen, he’s heading back to work as usual. He’s not even celebrating with a big purchase, like many players do when they get an extension.
“No, no celebration,” he laughed. “We’ve got kids to provide for their future, and we’ve got plenty of bills that we have to take care of. We’ve got to make sure that we’re frugal with what we have. Money doesn’t last forever and you’ve got to make the best of what you’ve got.
No celebration, but it’s something sweeter, Larsen said.
“Just a big hug when I see my wife.”