Steve Smith wants him back next year. Ron Rivera does, too.
Brandon LaFell, in the final year of his rookie contract, wants to be back with the Carolina Panthers in 2014 and beyond, but there’s no promise of that right now.
“I definitely want to stay here,” said LaFell, who will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. “I wish they would have extended me already but they haven’t. It is what it is. I’m going to keep going out here and busting my tail every week, keep helping this team win games and hopefully at the end of the year they offer me another deal.”
LaFell is the team’s No. 2 wide receiver and ranks third on the team behind tight end Greg Olsen and Smith in catches (48) and receiving yards (614). But two regular-season games and potential postseason play stand between the fourth-year wide receiver and his NFL future.
LaFell and his agent tried to get an extension this past offseason, but first-year general manager Dave Gettleman told LaFell he wasn’t signing any extensions until the end of this season, LaFell said.
LaFell appreciated that Gettleman, who declined to comment, has stuck to his word.
“In a perfect world, I’ll be here,” LaFell said. “But it’s not a perfect world so you got to keep praying, got to keep ballin.’
“It’s very important for me to go out here every week and play a big game because I’m being evaluated not just by this team but by 31 other teams in this league. For me to go out there and play big every week that’s going to be big for me. That’s going to help us win, but for me personally, that’s going to give me another contract here, another contract somewhere else.”
LaFell has earned $3.49 million in salary and bonuses since the Panthers drafted him out of Louisiana State in the third round of the 2010 draft. Since then he’s had steady improvements in games started, receiving yards and touchdowns.
He’s on track to finish with more than 700 receiving yards for the first time in his career, and he has more catches and touchdowns (five) this season than any other.
“Going forward he’s obviously somebody you’d like to have,” Rivera said. “You want him back on the team because of all the different things he does. He does more than just run routes.
“He’s gotten better every year. And he’s solidifying himself as a starter in the NFL.”
But the question surrounding LaFell in recent years is, is he a solid No. 2 receiver?
Fourteen NFL teams have at least two wide receivers with more receiving yards than LaFell, and that doesn’t include tight ends or running backs. Two of those teams have three receivers with more yards than LaFell.
“A lot of guys on offense are not getting the ball,” LaFell said. “Everybody’s numbers are down this year, but at the same time our numbers are down but our wins are up. We can’t complain about that.”
Smith and Rivera pointed to LaFell’s blocking as an aspect of his game that doesn’t show up in receiving totals but makes an impact on the game. LaFell’s block on Jets cornerback Dee Milliner helped DeAngelo Williams on a 72-yard score at the end of the first half last week.
There’s also LaFell’s ability to adapt. He’s played under different offensive coordinators and has improved his numbers in each year despite the changes.
Former offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski had a more down-the-field passing game, while Mike Shula’s scheme is more intermediate.
“I don’t believe LaFell is a system guy,” Smith said. “That’s why I say that he’s done everything because he’s adapted. There are very few guys, in my personal opinion, that in a short amount of time he’s been in the league have been able to handle change and be able to be successful at the same time as he’s done.”
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