Carolina Panthers

Rucker wants to come back for 10th year

The Panthers' Mike Rucker has decided he wants to return for a 10th NFL season, but whether it will be with Carolina remains to be seen.
The Panthers' Mike Rucker has decided he wants to return for a 10th NFL season, but whether it will be with Carolina remains to be seen.

CHARLOTTE -- Mike Rucker couldn't name the one big reason he wanted to come back for a 10th season.

For the soon-to-be 33-year-old defensive end, there were too many to count. Rucker said Monday there were a number of factors that made him want to give it another shot next year.

He said he feels well enough to contribute at a high level again. He thinks the Carolina Panthers are close to being Super Bowl contenders -- and watching the New York Giants win it all only confirmed that. He wants to play in the league at the same time as his brother Martin, a tight end from Missouri who's among the top prospects at his position this year.

"There's a lot of pieces to the puzzle," Rucker said. "Bottom line is, I'm ready for another go-round. I feel good, I'm motivated, I'm energized, I'm ready to go, and I want to win a Super Bowl.

"It's something I want to do. I feel good enough to do it. All the pieces just added up this way."

Of course, he still has to find somebody to agree to let him.

It's unclear at this point if the Panthers want him back, or in what role if they do.

He's an unrestricted free agent come Feb. 29, but the Panthers will have first crack at him. Rucker said his agent plans to reach out to the team this week to set up a time to talk about its plans.

And while he said throughout last fall that he'd rather retire than go somewhere else, he's now at least considering the possibility of taking his act to another city. But it's clear from talking to him that working something out with the team that chose him in the second round of the 1998 draft is his preference, and it's no sure thing he'll play again if the Panthers don't want him.

When asked how he'd respond if the Panthers told him they didn't want him, Rucker paused.

"That's when I'd have to go home and sit and pray about it," Rucker said. "That would be part three of the process, because part two was deciding to come back at all. It would be hard, because this is home, and it's always going to be home. Even if I did leave, I'm coming back here."

Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said he didn't want to say anything until he's had a chance to talk to Rucker, and didn't want to evaluate the way Rucker played last year.

"We told Mike at the end of the year we'd sit down with him, and we've yet to do that," Hurney said. "Until we do, there's really nothing to say."

Rucker's coming off an inspirational season, even if it was his worst since he became a full-time starter in 2001. He had just 3.0 sacks last year, but still played well against the run. That he did so coming off a major knee injury in December 2006 made it impressive, and he thinks it shows he can build on last year's numbers.

"Last year, coming off the surgery, I didn't have a foundation," Rucker said. "Now, I have a base I can build on. What I'm encouraged about is the way I was able to go last year without having any downtime, without having a chance to rest. Now, I've been working out for about a month, and I feel like I'm getting stronger.

"I feel like I have something to offer. I'm still smart, still tough, still got a lot of juice left."