The Panthers and Luke Kuechly don’t appear to be on the verge of agreeing to terms on a new contract for the star linebacker, but extension negotiations between the two sides are “heating up,” a league source tells Jonathan Jones of the Charlotte Observer. According to Jones, one source estimated last week that there was a 50/50 chance of a deal getting done prior to the season, but talks have become more serious since then.
Kuechly, 24, has established himself as one of the NFL’s best defenders since entering the league in 2012. The Boston College product has started all 48 regular season contests during his three-year career, averaging 167 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions and 10 passes defended per season. The former ninth overall pick has received his fair share of accolades, winning the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year and the 2012 Defensive Rookie of the Year. He’s also been named to a pair of Pro Bowls and All-Pro teams.
For the Panthers, there’s no real rush to get something finalized with Kuechly, since he remains under contract through the 2016 season. However, his cap hit for ’16 is $11.058MM, the value of his fifth-year option. Carolina will likely want to reduce that figure by working out an extension this year or next.
Kuechly’s floor was likely set earlier this month, when Bobby Wagner signed a new four-year, $43MM contract with the Seahawks. Wagner’s deal made him the highest-paid inside linebacker in the NFL, surpassing Lawrence Timmons‘ $9.56MM annual salary, and Kuechly figures to set a new standard when he signs, since he has been even more productive than Wagner. A new-money, per-year salary in the ballpark of $12MM doesn’t seem out of reach for the Panthers linebacker.