When Shaq Thompson underwent surgery to repair his fractured fibula, it was assumed the Panthers linebacker would miss the rest of the season. While that’s still the most likely scenario, the veteran is apparently holding out hope for a return in 2023.
Thompson told reporters that there’s a chance he could return to the field this season (via Joe Person of The Athletic). The linebacker revealed that his recovery timeline is three months, which would put a potential return around mid-December.
If Thompson doesn’t have any setbacks, he could have the opportunity to play in the Panthers’ final three or four games. Of course, if the organization is out of the playoff picture at that point, they may just choose to keep the 29-year-old healthy for the 2024 campaign. Thompson is still under contract through next season, although the Panthers do have an easy out if they want to move on from the former first-round pick.
Thompson suffered the injury during the Panthers’ Week 2 loss to the Saints. The linebacker is the team’s longest-tenure player and only remaining holdover from the Super Bowl 50 squad. He had one of the most productive seasons of his career in 2022, finishing with a career-high 135 tackles.
Offseason addition Kamu Grugier-Hill has been the biggest benefactor of Thompson’s injury. After exclusively playing on special teams in Week 1, the veteran has seen the field for 110 defensive snaps over the past two weeks. Former Pro Bowler Deion Jones made his season debut in Week 3, playing 52 defensive snaps alongside Grugier-Hill and Frankie Luvu.
September 19th, 2023 at 12:26pm CST by Sam Robinson
SEPTEMBER 19: Thompson has already undergone surgery to repair the fibula fracture, per Reich (via Rapoport). This step will end the nine-year vet’s season.
SEPTEMBER 18: A cart transported Shaq Thompson to the locker room during the Panthers’ narrow loss to the Saints tonight. It does not look like the veteran linebacker will be in uniform again soon.
Frank Reich confirmed Thompson suffered a “significant” ankle injury against the Saints and will miss extensive time, Cameron Wolfe of NFL.com tweets. It should be expected an IR stint will take place, and NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reports this injury is likely to sideline Thompson for the season’s remainder.
It is not yet a lock Thompson is done for the year, with NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero reporting the veteran defender sustained a fibula fracture that will require more tests to determine if he has a chance of coming back this season. Thompson, 29, is the Panthers’ longest-tenured defender and the only starter remaining from the team’s Super Bowl 50 appearance. He has been with the Panthers since 2015, when the team selected him in the first round.
Thompson has made 107 starts for the Panthers — third-most by a linebacker in team history, behind only Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly. This trio was in place from 2015-18, but Davis finished his career elsewhere and Kuechly retired after the 2019 season. While the Panthers have made a number of changes on defense as they transitioned from Ron Rivera to Matt Rhule to Reich as HC, Thompson has persisted.
This offseason, the Panthers effectively gave Thompson a pay cut. Thompson had signed a four-year, $54.43MM extension in December 2019. Two years remained on that deal. Rather than head into what became a modest market for off-ball linebackers not named Tremaine Edmunds this offseason, Thompson opted to stay on a revised deal. The Panthers gave Thompson additional guarantees in exchange for the cut; he is now tied to a two-year $12.6MM agreement. Thompson received $8.5MM guaranteed on this adjusted accord, which still runs through 2024.
Carolina has moved on from a few of its linebackers in recent years, trading Denzel Perryman and then moving on from other Rhule-era pickups (Jermaine Carter, Cory Littleton, Damien Wilson). Hybrid player Frankie Luvu operates as a key off-ball presence for Carolina, which used offseason pickup Kamu Grugier-Hill in place of Thompson tonight. That arrangement may be likely to continue for the foreseeable future, barring a surprise diagnosis or the Panthers making a move at linebacker.
The only Panthers starter left from Super Bowl 50, Shaq Thompson agreed to terms on a new contract this offseason. The decision kept Thompson in Carolina, but it amounted to a pay cut.
Thompson was previously tethered to a four-year, $54.43MM deal — one agreed to in December 2019 — that ran through 2023. While that contract paid nearly $14MM per year, Thompson’s new deal ties him to the team through 2024 at a $6.3MM AAV. In exchange for this reduction in average salary, the Panthers handed Thompson $8.5MM in guaranteed money.
“Just look at the linebacker market; nobody was getting paid,” Thompson said, via Panthers.com’s Augusta Stone. “So it was just weighing out, ‘Do I want to be here, or do I want to go somewhere else? Do I want to be with my brothers, who I went to war with, or do I want to go to a different team and meet new people?’ And shoot, I’m a big loyal guy. So I stayed with my brothers.”
Thompson agreed to his redone deal just before that market formed, with news of the contract coming out March 11 — two days before the legal tampering period began. The new deal also extended Thompson’s contract by a year and includes a $2MM salary guarantee for 2024. That would be unlikely to stop the Panthers from moving on next year, should Thompson’s play tail off in his upcoming age-29 season, but the team did make a 2024 release more difficult by adding three void years to the deal.
Of the above-referenced lot of ILBs, only two (Anzalone and Singleton) received more than the $8.5MM fully guaranteed Thompson did. Both the Lions and Broncos linebackers secured $9MM guaranteed. Thompson’s agreement effectively served as one of the market-setting moves at a position this offseason. While Thompson’s previous extension gave him the third-most guaranteed money among linebackers at the time, this one will keep his Carolina career going as another new coaching staff takes over.
Thompson’s name emerged in trade rumors shortly afterMatt Rhule‘s firing, joining just about every other Panthers veteran of note. While Christian McCaffrey, Chosen Anderson and D.J. Moore are gone, Thompson will stick around after his fourth straight 100-tackle season. As the Panthers rallied back from their 1-5 start, Thompson finished with a career-high 135 tackles. Pro Football Focus rated the Washington alum as a top-25 linebacker overall but slotted him second at the position against the run, with only Wagner earning a higher grade in that area.
Drafted during the Dave Gettleman–Ron Rivera period, Thompson has 106 games for the Panthers. Among linebackers, that number trails only Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly — the team’s prized duo when Thompson arrived — in franchise history. Thompson starting 13 games this season will move him past Kuechly on that list.
Here are some details on contracts signed since the start of free agency:
Laremy Tunsil, T (Texans): Three years, $75MM. The extension, according to Mike Florio of NBC Sports, includes a guaranteed amount of $60MM, $50MM of which is guaranteed at signing. The $50MM amount in composed of a $30MM signing bonus, Tunsil’s 2023 base salary of $2MM, and his 2024 base salary of $18MM. The remaining $10MM, which comes out of his 2025 base salary (worth a total of $20.95MM), is guaranteed for injury at signing and becomes fully guaranteed on the fifth day of the 2024 league year. His 2026 base salary is worth $20.95MM. The contract also includes annual workout bonuses of $150,000 and annual per game active roster bonuses that can potentially total $250,000 each season.
Dalvin Tomlinson, DT (Browns): Four years, $57MM. The contract, according to Florio, includes a guaranteed amount of $26.29MM consisting of a $15.09MM signing bonus, Tomlinson’s first year base salary of $1.08MM, and his 2024 option bonus of $10.13MM. Of the 2024 option bonus, $8.84MM is guaranteed at signing with the rest fully guaranteeing on the third day of the 2024 league year. His 2024 base salary of $1.21MM is guaranteed for injury at signing and will fully guarantee along with the second part of the 2024 option bonus. His 2025 and 2026 base salaries are both worth $13MM, and both have roster bonuses of $750,000 due on the third day of their respective league years. In the first two years of the contract, Tomlinson will receive a per game active roster of bonus of $14,705 worth a potential season total of $250,000. The following two years see the per game active roster bonus rise to $44,117 for a potential season total of $750,000. The deal includes a potential out, allowing the Browns to cut Tomlinson after 2025 with $12.11MM in dead money but $14.5MM of cap savings over the next three years, including two voidable years.
Larry Ogunjobi, DT (Steelers): Three years, $28.75MM. The new deal, according to Aaron Wilson of KPRC 2, includes a guaranteed amount of $12MM at signing consisting of a $10.6MM signing bonus and Ogunjobi’s first year base salary of $1.4MM. His second year base salary of $5MM is guaranteed for injury and his 2025 base salary is worth $4MM. The contract includes roster bonuses of $4.75MM (guaranteed on the third league day of 2024) and $3MM (guaranteed on the third league day of 2025). Pittsburgh also put a potential out in the contract that would allow them to cut Ogunjobi after 2023 with $7.07MM of dead money but with $16.75MM in cap savings over the next two years.
Garrett Bradbury, C (Vikings): Three years, $15.75MM. The new contract, according to Wilson, includes a guaranteed amount of $9.8MM, $4.9MM of which is guaranteed at signing. The initial $4.9MM is composed of a $3.82MM signing bonus and Bradbury’s first year base salary of $1.08MM. The remaining $4.9MM consists of his second year base salary which fully guarantees on the third day of the 2024 league year. The deal includes an annual workout bonus of $100,000 and a per game active roster bonus of $14,705 for a potential season total of $250,000. The deal also includes a potential out that allows the Vikings to release Bradbury after 2023 with zero dead cap, resulting in $13.05MM in cap savings over the next two years.
Shaq Thompson, LB (Panthers): Two years, $12.6MM. The reworked deal, according to Joe Person of The Athletic, includes a guaranteed amount of $8.5MM consisting of a $5.3MM signing bonus, Thompson’s first year base salary of $1.2MM, and $2MM of his 2024 base salary (worth a total of $3.8MM). He’ll receive a $1MM roster bonus guaranteed in March of 2024 and a per game active roster bonus of $29,411 for a potential season total of $500,000. There are also possible incentives concerning a Pro Bowl selection and playoff wins. The deal includes three void years to reduce his current cap hit. His cap number in 2023 was reduced from $24.5MM to $14.06MM.
The Panthers will have a mainstay of their defense beyond his scheduled walk year. Carolina has agreed to terms on a re-worked two-year deal with linebacker Shaq Thompson, per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network (Twitter link). The team has announced the move.
The 28-year-old was already on the books for 2023, but at a cap hit of $24.4MM. This deal will add one new year to his existing contract, and in all likelihood lower that cap figure for the coming season. That will allow Thompson to continue his career in Charlotte, all eight years of which have been spent with the Panthers.
The former first-rounder has been a fixture throughout his Carolina tenure, starting 106 of his 117 career games to date. Thompson’s time has been marked by consistent production, as he has racked up at least 104 tackles in each of the past four seasons. Over that span, he has logged a snap share no lower than 93%, making him a vital, experienced part of the team’s defense.
Thompson popped up in trade rumors after head coach Matt Rhule was fired in the middle of the 2022 season. That decision led to speculation of a firesale being possible, and the Panthers were indeed willing to ship off Christian McCaffrey; they unsurprisingly listened to offers on Thompson, but elected to keep him through what ended up being a late-season run towards a division title. The Washington alum set a new career-high in total stops with 135 this season.
The arrival of Ejiro Evero as defensive coordinator has brought about a change in scheme to a 3-4 for Carolina. That made Damien Wilsonexpendable, as he was released yesterday, but Thompson will now remain in place atop the team’s linebacker depth chart. His experience will no doubt be leaned upon as the Panthers transition into a new era on defense while looking to maintain the unit’s success from 2022.
From a personal standpoint, this deal will also allow Thompson to continue his ascent up the franchise leaderboard in several categories. He currently ranks fourth in team history in tackles, trailing only Thomas Davis, Luke Kuechly and Mike Minter. Another strong season could see Thompson move into third place on that list, and help earn himself an extended stay in Charlotte beyond 2024.
The last Panther left from the team’s Super Bowl 50 lineup, Shaq Thompson has started all six Carolina games this season. The Ron Rivera-era investment is the franchise’s longest-tenured starter by two seasons.
Brian Burns and D.J. Moore continue to generate the most interest, per Breer (on Twitter), but the team appears set against moving its top pass rusher and wide receiver. Burns remains on a rookie contract, while Moore just signed an extension in March. Thompson’s second contract came back in 2019 — a four-year, $54.16MM deal.
While Burns and Moore’s statuses stop the Panthers short of a full-on firesale, the presences of McCaffrey and Thompson on the trade block — after Robbie Andersonwas dealt — make this one of the more interesting pre-deadline situations in recent years.
Like McCaffrey, Thompson could appeal as a 2022 trade piece due to a restructure agreement. To create cap space earlier this year, Carolina reduced Thompson’s base salary to $1.12MM. A team that acquired the 28-year-old linebacker would be responsible for less than $800K of his veteran-minimum wage. Thompson’s contract arrangement is somewhat similar to McCaffrey’s, only the defender’s future nonguaranteed salaries only run through 2023 rather than 2025. Thompson is due $12.36MM next year.
The Panthers trading Thompson now would cost them $11.27MM in dead money while saving barely $1MM. But the 95-game starter could produce additional draft assets that would make such a hit more palatable to a Panthers team not in position to contend this season.
Brought in to play alongside Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, Thompson joined the acclaimed duo as a rookie-year starter — albeit in a non-three-down capacity — during the team’s 15-1 2015 season. Kuechly’s unexpected retirement following the 2019 campaign thrust Thompson into an anchor role on Carolina’s defensive second level, and he has displayed decent durability both before and after that role change came to pass. The Washington alum has never missed more than three games in a season.
Pro Football Focus ranks Thompson as a top-five linebacker against the run this year. Although Thompson has 11.5 career sacks and three 100-plus-tackle seasons, he has never made a Pro Bowl. He joins Rhule pickups Cory Littleton and Frankie Luvu as the team’s primary linebackers. Considering Littleton’s one-year deal and Thompson’s high 2023 cap number, linebacker stands to be one of the Panthers’ needs next year.
Thompson’s return will be a welcomed sight in Carolina. The 28-year-old had his third-straight 100-tackle season in 2021, adding a pair of sacks and interceptions. Offseason knee surgery cost him time in training camp, but the fact that he passed his conditioning test today means that he can resume practicing with plenty of time before the start of the regular season. Returning to full health in time for Week 1, while expected, would be a crucial development for the Panthers’ defense.
Two Panthers starting defenders will begin their training camps belatedly. The team placed Shaq Thompson and Jaycee Horn on its active/PUP list.
Thompson landed on the Panthers’ PUP because of an offseason knee surgery, David Newton of ESPN.com tweets. While Matt Rhule described this as a cleanup-type procedure, Thompson will still miss a chunk of time leading up to the season. Horn beginning on Carolina’s PUP may be more notable, due to the extensive time he has spent rehabbing a foot malady.
Horn indicated his surgically repaired foot was sore after the team’s conditioning test. This comes two months after the 2021 first-round pick was declared “full go” after a rehab effort over the winter and through the spring. Horn should be expected to return soon, but it obviously makes sense for the Panthers to exercise caution here. The South Carolina alum broke his foot in Week 3 of last season and missed 14 games.
Players who land on the active/PUP list can return to practice at any point during camp, but if they remain on the list beyond August 23, a minimum four-week absence must ensue beginning in Week 1. Both Panthers are expected to be back at practice before that deadline, though Horn’s return to work will generate interest considering his time away.
Thompson, 27, was set to count for $18.26MM against the cap for next season before the move. Instead, as ESPN’s David Newton notes, the team has created $5M in space (Twitter link). With even more financial flexibility, Carolina now has plenty of room to be aggressive in free agency.
A 2015 first round pick, Thompson has spent his entire seven-year career with the Panthers. He ranked second on the team in tackles last year with 104, adding two sacks and five pass deflections. In total, he has racked up 574 stops, 11.5 sacks and four forced fumbles.
Thompson is under contract for another two seasons, where he will no doubt continue to be an anchor on the team’s defense. Many of the offseason questions for the team revolve around the secondary, where corners Donte Jacksonand Stephon Gilmoreare both pending unrestricted free agents. Moves such as this one – along with the re-working of Moton’s deal – give the team more of a chance to keep both. Alternatively, it could mean room for one, along with a significant addition at another position.