CHARLOTTE -- Carolina Panthers left tackle Travelle Wharton knows how to handle it, but he's not sure his relatives would.
So he called a meeting during training camp, and laid down the law -- there would be no discussion of his pending free agency by anyone in his family.
"When other people started talking, we just made a rule," Wharton said with a sneak smile. "So nobody has said anything about it. I don't know if they're afraid to ask me or what.
"We had that rule so we could focus. After last year with the injury, we made a rule that we wouldn't talk about the contract, just pray that I'm healthy the whole year. That's been it."
Wharton's got a different perspective, since last year's opening week knee injury cut short his season, and could have affected his value on the open market. With more money to be spent than quality players to spend it on, there's a chance Wharton and the rest of the free agents could strike it rich.
He grins when asked about it, afraid to talk too much, lest he jinx himself. But the reality is, after another week, he might have played his last game in Charlotte, and will have definitely played the last game of his rookie contract.
Wharton won't be one of the premier free agents, but should find suitors, since he's an acceptable player at one of the most important positions on the field. Blowing out his left knee last year didn't help his value, but he said he's feeling physically sound now, and has started all 15 games without complication. He also started the entire 2005 season at left tackle, so he's got some degree of marketability. He just didn't want it being a topic of conversation among relatives and friends.
"My whole circle, they hear it from the outside, so we don't even talk about it," Wharton said. "Last year, the first game going down, I'm not thinking about anything else, just praying I stay healthy."
The Panthers have 17 players about to become unrestricted free agents, and three more who'll be restricted. Included are six who began the season as starters, and eight who'll start this week.
And luckily for the organization, none are standing back and throwing bombs at the team for not making moves sooner to get them signed.
"Honestly, I don't really have a lot good quotes for you," right tackle Jordan Gross said, laughing at his own blandness. "I'm the wrong guy to talk to at contract time. We'll have something to say if something good happens, sorry."
Jokes aside, Gross will be the big-money player of the lot, and among the most likely to stay.
It'll take somewhere north of $7 million per year on a long term deal to keep him, but indications from both sides have been positive that a deal can be worked out before the signing period begins next spring.
But he's tried to keep the talk at arms length the way he does pass-rushers, saying like most players he tries to compartmentalize the business.
"You never want to say too much about it," Gross said. "Things look like they're moving in the right direction. I haven't worried about it any other week, so I'm not worried about it now. There's always something, really, to think about off the field. Like my senior year in college, the draft. You've got to play well when you're playing football and worry about other stuff at other times.
"I've been lucky, I was drafted high, I'm healthy. I've been blessed with stuff already. So it's not like I'm really worried about the numbers. It comes with the job and I'm not going to turn it down, but I'm fortunate as it is. It's not like I'm waiting for that huge moment."
Most players do try to stay calm about it, but Gross has a clear idea of what the market holds.
Starting wide receiver Drew Carter will catch teams' eyes because of his speed, but he's yet to break the 1,000-yard barrier -- in his career. Starting in just eight of 32 games, Carter has 69 catches for 918 yards and eight touchdowns. His career had a slow start after he blew out his knee his rookie year, but he's since developed into more than just a track guy trying to learn to play football.
His hope that is his potential will entice someone to make a play for him, knowing there's a chance he's getting better.
"I feel like I've made some big plays," Carter said. "They've definitely seen me run, even if I wasn't getting the ball, they can still see the way I stretch the field. I definitely feel like that's what teams are looking for, big play ability, that threat.
"I feel like the second half of the season, I got more time, and just showing that I was maturing as a receiver. I started here with a hurt knee and I've been working and I'm still working. I'm still growing and I feel like that's an advantage for me. I have upside, because I've been learning each year."
Of course, there's always this week's finale in Tampa Bay in which to add to a resume -- one which will be getting dusted off for the pending free agents soon, whether they want to discuss it, or not.
"I really just try to stay focused on this game," Wharton said. "It's the last one. Just go out and play hard, not for the contract, but for the guys around you, just play hard.
"I'm not really trying to think about that. That's going to happen later on. Really I just focus on Week 17."