Panthers sign linebacker Shaq Thompson to four-year, $54.2 million extension

Ben WeinribYahoo Sports Contributor

Much is uncertain about the Carolina Panthers’ future after head coach Ron Rivera was fired this week, but one major piece will stay the same.

The Panthers announced a four-year extension for Shaq Thompson on Saturday, which will rightfully pay him as one of the league’s best inside linebackers.

Thompson's agent Doug Henderson informed ESPN that the deal will be worth $54.2 million with $28 million guaranteed and a $16 million signing bonus. With escalators, it could reach a maximum value of $57 million.

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This deal compares favorably to that of fellow Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly, who set a record with his five-year, $61.8 million deal that included $27 million in guarantees in 2015. Contracts naturally get larger over time due to inflation, but that says a lot about what the Panthers think of Thompson, considering that Kuechly has long been regarded as the league’s premier inside linebacker.

Thompson was asked to make the switch from 4-3 outside linebacker to 3-4 inside linebacker this season and has taken it in stride. He ranks sixth in the NFL with 93 tackles despite being second on his team behind safety Eric Reid, and his nine tackles for a loss are more than any other player in the top 20 in total tackles.

Just 25 years old, Thompson has been everything the Panthers could have wanted when they selected him 25th overall in the 2015 draft out of Washington. A safety-linebacker hybrid, he has proved to be a worthy successor to longtime standout Thomas Davis.

Linebacker Shaq Thompson signed a massive four-year extension with the Panthers on Saturday. (John Byrum/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images)
Linebacker Shaq Thompson signed a massive four-year extension with the Panthers on Saturday. (John Byrum/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images)

How does this affect other Panthers needing extensions?

No contract can be viewed in a vacuum. Pass rushers Mario Addison and Gerald McCoy are set to hit free agency this summer, while Christian McCaffrey’s next contract looms large, especially in the wake of Ezekiel Elliott and Melvin Gordon’s brief holdouts. But the massive, MVP-sized elephant in the room is Cam Newton.

The former No. 1 overall pick has not looked the same since the team’s Super Bowl run during the 2015 season, and his health remains a question. The Panthers could cut or trade him to save $19 million in salary room, although that would leave them with a bevy of bad options at quarterback next year.

Kyle Allen looked capable through his first three starts but has a 75.8 quarterback rating with 10 touchdowns to 10 interceptions in the seven games since. Free-agent options would certainly not be an upgrade over a healthy Newton and may not save all that much money either.

Extending Thompson does not preclude the Panthers from keeping Newton, but that money has to come from somewhere. The other shoe could drop as soon as this offseason, and this only raises more questions about which direction Carolina will go.

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