CHARLOTTE -- Standing in the spot he's called his own for nine years, Carolina defensive end Mike Rucker talked about doing things the right way as he considers walking out the door.
About 10 feet deeper in the locker room, defensive tackle Kris Jenkins wondered aloud if he'd be in Charlotte next year.
While Rucker's future seems clearer -- he's almost certainly finished after this week's finale at Tampa Bay -- Jenkins is set to enter yet another offseason in which the questions will swirl.
"I don't know what it is, I guess it's the story of my life," Jenkins said. "I have these soap opera moments. Everything is so laced with drama and good times and bad times."
From the spring-long speculation that he was about to be traded to his absence from all the voluntary workouts, he provided plenty of grist for the rumor mill in 2007. But he showed up when he had to, and has played well at times, although well off previous Pro Bowl levels (he wasn't even an alternate this year).
When he came back last summer, he said he had "issues" he wanted to address with the team. Asked Wednesday if all those had been addressed, Jenkins laughed and said it wasn't in his best interest to say.
"I'm sorry, I don't think that's a good question for me to answer going into the offseason," Jenkins said. "I think I'm going to pass on that one. You have to forgive me."
The 28-year-old defensive tackle was quick to say he's not going to work out in Charlotte this offseason either -- "December 31 is the flight," he said, alluding to the day after the final game -- preferring to stay at his suburban Washington home near his family and children.
He said that's his priority at this point, and spoke at length of his affinity for the D.C. area. But when asked if he wanted to return to the Panthers, his answers were less clear.
"I don't know, to be honest," he said. "Seven years is a long time, but I do like it here. But I have two heads pulling at me. I miss being away from my family and not being able to see my kids grow up. Those things are starting to affect me more than when I first came in. When I first came in everything was cool. But my family is not here, my support structure is not here.
"It's a great city and it has treated me well over the last seven years, but I just honestly don't know. I have every intention of going into this offseason with an open mind. But if I have to come back here, that's great. If I have to go somewhere else, then that's great. As long as I'm healthy enough to give it another couple of years, then I'm cool. The reality of it is it's not for long."
Jenkins said he's learned in his seven seasons about the business side of the game, and how that impacts everything. He has two years left on his contract, but wanted that re-done a year ago, and the team said no. That was part of the reason he stayed away this offseason, but he had other concerns as well.
General manager Marty Hurney said he didn't want to comment on any potential moves until the season was over, but the team has long insisted that last year's problems with Jenkins were overblown by the media.
With Rucker, they've never had to worry about such distractions.
That's why Wednesday, as he approaches what could be the final game of his career, he spent most of his time talking about doing the right things.
When asked how he'd want to be remembered as a player, Rucker's first words were, "I think I try to put other people first."
At the same time, he knows that he'd turn 33 before the first minicamp of next year, and financially secure and established in this community, he's not certain he wants to beat himself up again. His contract's up this year, but the team would likely try to accommodate him as they did his best friend Mike Minter, if he wanted to come back.
Still, that seems unlikely, as much time as he spent talking about the physical toll of playing at his age, combined with the round-the-calendar demands of returning from last December's knee injury.
"I've been rolling for a long time now; it's been almost a year and a half straight I've been going -- mentally and physically I'm just tired," Rucker said. "So I want to go into this strong, and just relax and make sure the decision I make is a good decision, for myself, my family and taking everything into consideration -- the body, the mind, the heart and everything like that.
"When I make the decision one way or another I want to make sure it's the right decision. I need time to just decompress and make a clear decision."
He all but admitted that part of the reason he hasn't made any declarations -- although he broke down near tears after what could be his final home game last week -- was that he was uncomfortable with the idea of a farewell tour, or an extended discussion of any potential move.
"When I'm looking at the whole thing, that could be a piece of it," he said with a bit of a grin. "Being honest, though, I've never been down this road. I just want to make the right decision on a clear, rested mind, rather than making a decision right now when I'm tired.
"That decision could still be the same, I don't know. But I think that's more of the cautious way, is probably the slower process to do it that way. But at the end, I want the right result for everybody."