Technically speaking, Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis blew his ACL in a contract year.
But because of the looming labor uncertainty in the NFL, he's almost certainly going to be here next year one way or another.
If, as is expected, the league proceeds with an uncapped 2010, the rules for free agency change too. Players will need six years of service to become an unrestricted free agent instead of four, and that leaves players such as Davis in limbo.
The 2005 first-round pick is completing his fifth season. Barring a new collective bargaining agreement, he'll be a restricted free agent next year. The Panthers would have certainly tendered him at one of the highest amounts, because they've always put a premium on keeping the players they've developed.
The RFA status takes some of the urgency off doing a long-term deal, but the injury probably doesn't impact his future earnings any more than a potential work stoppage in 2011 does.
Honestly, the Panthers would most likely tender him as an RFA, and then work out a long-term deal later if a new CBA is reached. But the league's labor deal with the union will be much tougher to reach than a contract for any player. And face it, the Panthers have always (over)spent to keep their own draft picks, so there's no more reason to think they wouldn't do it with Davis than to think he wouldn't be the same player post-surgery.
"The good thing about it is, he’s been playing unbeleiveable, everybody sees that," DT Damione Lewis said when asked about Davis' economic future. "You have 32 teams watching that. I feel like if the Panthers want to bring him back, they’re not going to hold that against him.
"He’s really done a great job, been his best season since he’s been in the league."