Kawann Short isn’t used to being the center of attention, but he knows there’s nothing he can do about it right now.
The Carolina Panthers’ star defensive tackle is one of the biggest stories of training camp at Wofford College in Spartanburg, where the Panthers and Short reported Wednesday morning.
Carolina wants to lock up Short long-term before he begins the final season of his rookie deal, and Short is looking to become one of the highest-paid defensive tackles in the NFL.
“Uncomfortable? It’s a good uncomfortable,” Short said Wednesday of his situation. “You want to be in this position but you also want to get things done. It’s going to take time, and I’m patient.”
A report earlier this week indicated Short won’t accept any deal that doesn’t put him in the same stratosphere as Fletcher Cox and Muhammad Wilkerson, both of whom are set to average around $17 million per year.
The Panthers are eyeing Short in the $15 million per year range, and talks between both sides should begin again during camp.
Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman said the team and Short’s agent are at least talking. And that something good can happen when both sides are engaged.
“Those guys have been working hard. They deserve it,” said Short, who admitted their contracts only helped his case. “I’m happy to see they got it.”
Wilkerson, going into his sixth season, has two seasons of 10-plus sacks as both a defensive end and defensive tackle for the Jets. Cox had 9 1/2 sacks last season for the Eagles and has 22 total in his four-year career.
Last season, Short set a franchise record for defensive tackles with 11 sacks. That equaled the most by any player at that position in the league, and rang up his total to 16 in his three seasons.
Asked if he’s on the same level as Wilkerson and Cox, Short said he’s “working to that level.”
No chance of a holdout
He almost laughed off the notion that he would have held out of training camp – and for good reason. Short would have been fined $40,000 for each day of camp he missed.
Short, a 2013 second-round pick out of Purdue, is slated to make just more than $1 million in 2016, which would make him one of the biggest bargains on the team.
He said he’d have no issue playing this season out on his current deal.
“It’s not about the contract. It’s about this team,” Short said. “And I love the Carolina Panthers, I love the organization and hopefully things can get done.”
But if things don’t get done by the end of the preseason, it’s unlikely a deal will be reached until at least the next offseason. Gettleman has said he does not negotiate during the season.
“I’m confident that we’re going to try (to get him signed),” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “I’m confident that hopefully they’re going to try. We’re trying to do something that’s going to benefit the team and the young man. They’re going to put their best foot forward and we’re going to put our best and we’ll see. Hopefully it is positive.”
A franchise tag?
Gettleman would also have the ability to issue the franchise tag on Short next offseason. This would follow the same path as cornerback Josh Norman from last season.
Norman didn’t take what he perceived as a low contract offer from the Panthers before the 2015 season and bet on himself. He proved his worth, didn’t sign the franchise tag and, when the Panthers rescinded it, he signed with Washington for $75 million.
“That’s a whole different guy. That’s a whole different character,” Short said, laughing. “We’re talking about Josh Norman and KK right now. I can’t really put myself in his shoes and what he went through. Everybody’s different. I wouldn’t say that I bet myself on anything, but at the same time I work hard to put myself in this position.”
That position is one that would likely make him the second-highest-paid player on the team behind only quarterback Cam Newton.
He knows his play has put him in this position, but he also owes a bit of gratitude to his fellow defensive tackles who broke the bank with their deals and raised the market.
“It’s just like point guards and centers,” explained Short, a former high school basketball player. “You want to play point guard some times as a center, but at the same time big guys, we need love too. To see those guys get rewarded like that, it’s a blessing.”