Thomas Davis began his NFL career in Carolina in 2005 and he has made it abundantly clear that’s where he’d like to finish it.
No mind tricks. No verbal gymnastics. No poker-faced negotiations.
He’s 35 years old, and the only game he wants to play is the one on the football field. Preferably, the field at Bank of America Stadium.
Feeling the uncertainty of free agency for the first time, Davis said he’d like to come to terms with the Panthers on a deal that would keep him in Charlotte for a 15th season. So much so that he isn’t even entertaining the idea of wearing any jersey other than the one he’s worn since he was 22 years old.
“That’s the one thing that I look at that, more so than anything, that would not allow me to go play for another team,” he said Monday. “It’s the one thing that I look at and I focus in on that I would say I would never want to go play for another team. You know, you play somewhere your entire career — that’s special. That means something to me, to be able to say I played all of my career for one team.”
For now, however, no contract negotiations regarding Davis have begun.
The Panthers will have decisions to make. Will they re-sign starters Eric Reid, who said he will consider offers at “market value,” and Mike Adams? What will they do with defensive tackle Kyle Love? Is their instability on the offensive line a problem that can be addressed through free agency or the draft?
And, how much money will it cost to keep Julius Peppers in Carolina should he decide to play another season?
Davis said he understands the team has several mouths to feed this offseason but he’s willing to be flexible in order to get a deal done — just like he has been before.
He took a drastic pay cut in 2012, agreeing to a $700,000 base salary with no bonuses after making $8 million the year before. He did it again in 2016, when his contract value dropped from $10.25 million to $3.5 million.
“Have you seen how much money I make?” he said, when asked after Sunday’s game whether he’d accept a reduced salary or role if it meant returning to the Panthers. “I’ve already taken a pay cut.”
As Davis and his teammates cleared out their lockers Monday, he clarified what he meant.
“Whatever I need to do to make sure that we get it done and I’m still here,” he said. “It’s a negotiation, so this will be something that will take place. It’ll happen and we’ll see what happens coming from there.”
This past January, Davis declared 2018 would be his final season but changed his mind later in the year when the NFL issued him a four-game suspension. He didn’t want to go out like that.
It’s why one of his goals for 2019 is playing a full season, something he’s done six times despite tearing the ACL in his right knee three times from 2009-11.
“Playing a complete season (is something I want to do),” he said. “Definitely starts with the motivation of winning the Super Bowl. That’s why we play this game, to go out and compete, win games and win the Super Bowl. And really just come back out and compete and (prove) some of these people that doubt me being able to still play at a high level wrong.
“For right now, my focus is on coming back here and helping this team win.”
Whether Davis will get that chance remains to be seen. Although head coach Ron Rivera said he wants his veterans back in 2019, the Panthers will likely prioritize shoring up their offensive and defensive lines, adding depth to their secondary and speed to their defense as a whole over re-signing an aging fan favorite — even if that player put up per-game tackling numbers on par with some of the best seasons of his career.
For someone whose instinct has driven him to three Pro Bowls and two All-Pro selections, not knowing his next move is relatively uncharted territory. He knows what he wants, now all he can really do is trey to speak it into existence.
“I honestly don’t have a clue what’s going to happen,” he said. “I feel like I’m still wanted here and I’ve had several conversations with people that still want me to be around. You just love being wanted. Everybody knows my heart, they know how I feel about this organization and I feel like I know how they feel about me.
“I want to be confident that I’m going to be a Panther. I don’t want to think about being in another uniform. That’s a super last-ditch — I don’t even want to think about it, to be honest with you.”