Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis, the NFL's reigning Man of the Year, has a new contract — the last one he plans to sign to play football.
Davis agreed to a two-year extension that will keep the 11-year veteran under contract through the 2017 season, the Panthers announced Monday.
Davis' new deal is worth $18 million over the next three years, with $10 million guaranteed, according to a league source.
Davis, 32, was entering the final year of a contract that would have paid him $7.25 million this year, with a salary cap number of $9.9 million. The extension is expected to lower Davis' cap hit by as much as $3.25 million.
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Davis told the Observer last week he was confident the Panthers could get a deal done before training camp. The two sides ended up finalizing it before this week's mandatory, three-day minicamp, which begins Tuesday.
After the Panthers picked up his two-year club option in 2014, Davis indicated he’d play for the team that drafted him 14th overall in 2005 or not at all.
“Signing this extension is something I’ve wanted to do all along and it just confirms that I now get to officially end my career as a Carolina Panther and that means the world to me,” Davis said in a release. “I’m extremely excited about being a part of this defense and I’m looking forward to doing my part to make sure that we become the No. 1 defense in the league.”
Davis is second behind Mike Minter in Panthers’ history with 831 tackles. The former Georgia safety has played in 117 regular-season games with 99 starts – both franchise records for a linebacker.
“Thomas has been and continues to be an integral part of our team on the field and off the field,” general manager Dave Gettleman said. “His leadership is valuable and he is still playing at a high level. We’re thrilled we could get this done. He’s a lynchpin in our defense and we’re excited that he’s going to have the ability to retire as a Panther.”
Since the end of last season, the Panthers have extended the contracts of Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen, franchise quarterback Cam Newton and Davis. Next up could be cornerback Josh Norman, who is in a contract year after having a breakthrough season in 2014.
Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, the Defensive Player of the Year in 2013, also will command a lucrative, long-term contract. The Panthers exercised the club option on Kuechly for 2016, but are expected to get an extension done before then.
The new contract is the latest in a series of milestones for Davis this year.
He was named the NFL Man of the Year in January for his extensive charitable work with underprivileged students, then announced the Panthers' first-round selection of linebacker Shaq Thompson at the NFL draft.
Davis drove the pace car in NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 last month, and rode shotgun with Dale Earnhardt Jr. several days before the race.
Davis has averaged 77 tackles a year since returning from the third ACL reconstruction on his right knee in 2012. He’s the first known player to successfully come back from three ACL surgeries on the same knee.
When Davis announced the Panthers’ choice of Thompson on the first night of the draft, many observers thought Davis was introducing his likely successor.
But if Davis stays healthy and continues producing at a high level, Davis and Thompson could flank Pro Bowl middle linebacker Luke Kuechly for the next three years.
“This shows the commitment we’ve made to Thomas and the commitment he’s made to us,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “He’s been a great part of our success and now he has the opportunity to retire as a Panther. He’s a unique individual and there really is only one Thomas Davis.”
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