It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the guy who kept his Defensive Player of the Year trophy in a box at his parents’ home isn’t worried about the formality of a fifth-year option.
Carolina Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly said Monday at the start of voluntary offseason workouts that he has paid no mind to his contract situation. The Panthers have until May 3 to exercise Kuechly’s fifth-year option.
“I want to be here,” Kuechly said with a smile. “I guess it’s in the next few weeks. I don’t really control that. My agent said ‘when anything pops up I’ll let you know.’ Just sitting back, hanging with my buds, and we’ll see what happens.”
Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman has said previously he would have to “have brain damage not to” exercise the option on Kuechly, who will enter his fourth season this year.
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Drafted by Carolina with the ninth overall pick in 2012, Kuechly is on the final year of his rookie deal. But the collective bargaining agreement allows for teams to exercise the option in a player’s fifth year if the player was drafted in the first round.
Kuechly will make $11.1 million in 2016 once the option is exercised.
This week last year, the Panthers exercised quarterback Cam Newton’s fifth-year option. Already some teams around the league have started using their fifth-year options, including Indianapolis with quarterback Andrew Luck.
The option won’t preclude the Panthers from working on a long-term deal with Kuechly.
“I’m honestly not worried about it,” Kuechly said. “I’m excited to be here, I think you guys know that by now, and that stuff will take care of itself. I’m just here to run around and play football.”
Getting mentally stronger: With a year under his belt, receiver Kelvin Benjamin hopes he’s better mentally prepared this season than his rookie year.
Benjamin admitted Tuesday that he hit a rookie wall midway through the season after a strong start that saw him earn the No. 1 receiver position with ease in training camp.
“I go back starting with camp, I was really proud of camp,” Benjamin said. “The first part of the season I was (pleased, too). Like I said, I felt like mentally I got tired, so that’s the part you understand when you get a year under your belt. That’s the part you’re trying to fix, just keeping that same tempo throughout the season.”
Benjamin estimated hitting the rookie wall around the seventh or eighth game of the season, and it showed in his production. Starting with the seventh game of the year against Green Bay and through the next two games, Benjamin had nine catches for 173 yards and one touchdown.
He finished the year with 146 catches and 1,008 receiving yards.
Benjamin said he’ll work on his footwork, timing and getting out of his breaks on comeback routes this offseason and preseason.
Absence notes: Receiver Ted Ginn Jr. and safety Roman Harper missed the start of voluntary workouts after both men recently had weddings. Ginn was married on April 12, and Harper was married in a weekend ceremony in Asheville.
Locker change: Jonathan Stewart showed up to the first day of voluntary workouts and didn’t see DeAngelo Williams for the first time in his pro career.
Stewart, entering his eighth year, said Monday afternoon he had already communicated via text message with Williams, who was released by the Panthers this offseason after nine years in Carolina.
“It’s going to be weird,” said Stewart, who said the reality of not having Williams with the team is in the process of hitting him. “Just coming up here today first team workouts, my locker buddy is gone of seven years. It’s obviously different, but it’s part of the business.”