Football

Everyone loves TD, but was Panthers’ decision to move on from Thomas Davis right?

Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis retiring, returning, or playing elsewhere

Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis on whether he'll retire, return, or possibly play for a different NFL franchise to extend his career.
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Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis on whether he'll retire, return, or possibly play for a different NFL franchise to extend his career.

The Carolina Panthers did a hard thing this week, parting ways with one of their most beloved players in linebacker Thomas Davis.

But it was also the right thing.

Davis, 35, just finished his 14th NFL season. He wants to keep playing. But, in a raw home video he published Wednesday night on his Twitter account, Davis said that the Panthers don’t want him anymore.

“I received information from the Carolina Panthers on Monday that they’re going to go in a different direction with the linebacker position,” Davis said.

It sounded harsh — like a man announcing his own firing, except that Davis actually isn’t under contract to the Panthers for 2019. And he’s not going to be.

And honestly, he shouldn’t be.

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Davis wants to play next season, and he will probably get that chance once he becomes an unrestricted free agent in March. But his extraordinary career with the Panthers should and will be over.

Davis wasn’t nearly as effective on the field in 2018 as he had been the past several years, and I’m not even talking about the four-game suspension he served at the beginning of the year for testing positive for a banned substance.

At some point, players get older and they get slower. You can play Father Time to a stalemate for years, and No. 58 did. But you’re never going to beat him. Davis finally looked his age in 2018.

Shaq Thompson was the Panthers’ No. 1 draft pick in 2015 with the idea that he would someday replace Davis as Luke Kuechly’s primary running mate, and that day has come.

Davis’s Twitter video was mostly a graceful, 140-second farewell to Panthers fans. It almost sounded like a retirement speech, as he thanked his teammates and the fans and briefly choked up at one point, noting “this is extremely tough for me.”

But then Davis made it clear that he wasn’t retiring at all (although before the 2018 season he said it was going to be his last). And he said that he wanted Carolina fans to understand that they will likely see him in a different NFL uniform in 2019. Davis has spent his entire career with the Panthers since they drafted him with their first-round pick in 2005.

“I’m not retiring,” Davis said in the video. “I feel like I have way too much football left in me to walk away from the game right now. … Panther nation, just know that in no way did I ever imagine putting on another uniform — still to this day don’t want to do it. But I want to play football. So if that’s the way I’m going to be able to continue my career, then it’s something that I have to do.”

Kelly Davis, who is Thomas’s wife and also a regular guest on local TV station WCCB, said in an interview with the station: “This is life. This is a part of the business. This is part of the NFL. You have a lot of people that want him gone. So – they got their wish.”

Kelly Davis also said the Davis family has no intention of moving out of Charlotte and that her husband had already cleared out his locker at Bank of America Stadium, although she added that it was his choice to do so now rather than in March when he officially becomes a free agent.

Thomas Davis will undoubtedly be in the Panthers’ hall of fame as soon as he does retire. He made three Pro Bowl appearances (from 2015-17) for Carolina.

All three of those came after he became the first NFL player to ever successfully return from three anterior cruciate ligament tears in the same knee. After the 2014 season, Davis also won one of the NFL’s highest honors — the Walter Payton Man of the Year award — for his exemplary community service. His roots to both the Charlotte community and the Panthers run deep.

“I wanted to be back,” Davis said in his video. “I wanted to be a part of a group that … would right the wrongs that we had this season.”

But too often in 2018, the Panthers defense looked old and overmatched. The team sustained a seven-game losing streak and finished 7-9. Davis had a few moments once he returned from his suspension, but most of the time he just wasn’t the impact playmaker he was for so long.

This is only the first of many defensive dominoes to fall for a team has to get younger, faster and better on defense. I don’t think defensive end Julius Peppers or safety Mike Adams, for instance, will play another snap for the Panthers, either.

As for Davis, though, this is difficult because everyone loves “TD.” But it’s also necessary.

I wish Davis the best of luck elsewhere in the league. He’s always been a class act. I’d love to see him make another Pro Bowl and prove the Panthers (and me) wrong.

But honestly, I think the team made the right decision.

Sports columnist Scott Fowler has written for the Charlotte Observer since 1994. He has authored or co-authored eight books, including four about the Carolina Panthers. In 2018, Fowler won the Thomas Wolfe award for outstanding newspaper writing. He also is the host of the Observer’s hit podcast “Carruth.”

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