Scott Fowler

Captain Munnerlyn unplugged: On the lesson his departure taught the Panthers and more

Panthers coach Ron Rivera has always enjoyed a good relationship with Captain Munnerlyn. Rivera teased the cornerback in this 2013 file photo by holding a ball just out of his reach.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera has always enjoyed a good relationship with Captain Munnerlyn. Rivera teased the cornerback in this 2013 file photo by holding a ball just out of his reach.

Captain Munnerlyn, the once and future cornerback for the Carolina Panthers, has always been both a good player and a good interview.

When I spoke to Munnerlyn Saturday by telephone, the nickel cornerback had just signed a four-year deal with Carolina (worth $17 million, including $8 million guaranteed).

I published a bit of this exclusive interview immediately afterward in a story about the chirping Munnerlyn did after his Minnesota Vikings beat Carolina in Charlotte last September – and some of those quotes are included here also in case you missed that story. But I also thought you might like to see the interview in more complete form.

I have been banging the drum for Munnerlyn to return to Carolina for more than a month following his three-year sojourn in Minnesota.

So the fact that Munnerlyn – a former seventh-round pick out of South Carolina in 2009 – is coming back makes me happy. It makes a lot of people happy – the gregarious Munnerlyn has always been a popular player in the locker room and one of the players coach Ron Rivera most likes to tease. Rivera used to liken the 5-9, 195-pound Munnerlyn going after the ball to a terrier going after a bone.

Here are some excerpts from my phone interview with Munnerlyn.

Q. Why do you think the Panthers signed you this time around as an unrestricted free agent but not in 2014, when you left Carolina for Minnesota after playing your first five years for Carolina?

A. I think they have now seen how valuable my position is. The league is really starting to realize that you need a good nickel corner. If you don’t have one, in a passing league, you’re in trouble. So they came back and got me.

Q. Did you need to leave the first time to prove your worth?

A. I wouldn’t say I needed to leave, but I needed to be compensated. And the Panthers had a little cap issue, too. Now I’m an older guy, in my ninth year – although to me it seems like I just got drafted. And this is home.

Q. When this contract runs out, you will be a 12-year veteran. Do you think you just signed your final NFL contract?

A. I don’t think it’s my last deal. I’ll have 12 years in the league when it ends and be 32 years old, but I just finished playing with a guy who’s 38 years old and was still getting it done. If Terence Newman can do that at Minnesota, then why not me? I know how to take care of my body.

Q. You teamed with offensive tackle Matt Kalil in Minnesota, and now you are both coming to Charlotte. What kind of guy is Matt, the younger brother of Panthers center Ryan Kalil?

A. Matt is a great guy and he knows how to be a pro. I think he’ll take advantage of this opportunity. He’s not as funny as Ryan, though, and he’s not a big prankster like Ryan either. Different personalities.

Q. What you said about Devin Funchess in September ...

A. Oh, I knew this one was coming ...

Q. You basically said that Funchess wasn’t a good player and the Vikings weren’t that worried about him on the field. Are you going to apologize to him for saying that?

A. I definitely am not apologizing for saying it. That’s not me. And that’s how I felt. But now we’re teammates, and we’re competitors. And hopefully he is going to prove me wrong. ... We’ll talk about it and move on.

Q. You also told a reporter from the Sporting News after that game that the Panthers were not good at playing from behind and that you knew Minnesota would win once the Vikings got ahead.

A. That’s just what I felt at the time, and I’ve never been the type to bite my tongue. I’m a competitor, and I said what I felt. I’ve already talked to a lot of guys on this defense – Luke (Kuechly), Charles Johnson, TD (Thomas Davis) – and they were all wanting me back. I think we’re all fine on that. I’m a competitor, and that’s just what I believed then.

Q. In fact, those guys campaigned hard for you to come back, right?

A. Yes. They kind of swindled me (laughs). I had other visits lined up and everything, but they didn’t want me to leave town without a contract.

Q. So how close is this Panthers team to getting back to the Super Bowl?

A. Very close. Very, very close. But we’ve got to put in the work.