Extending Shaq Thompson was an obvious choice for the Carolina Panthers.
There was never any real drama about whether or not the Carolina Panthers were going to pick up Shaq Thompson’s fifth-year option. The team remains convinced that the versatile linebacker is a big part of their future. Any intimation that Thomas Davis’ four-game suspension had anything to do with the team’s decision is complete and utter nonsense.
Sources close to the Panthers insist the decision to extend Thompson was made back in March. For the sake of your timeline, Davis’ suspension was announced until the first week of April. Cynical observers might call this revisionist history on behalf of the Panthers, but they were never going to let Thompson walk away.
Even though his talents are sometimes pushed to the background because of playing with and behind luminaries like Davies and Luke Kuechly, Thompson’s talents are undeniable. His unique ability to stop the run as a linebacker and cover some wide receivers in the slot make his presence essential to the Panthers defense.
There’s a reason Thompson started 14 games for the team last season. The only games he missed out on starting were due to a planter fasciitis injury in December. When he’s healthy, he’s on the field for the Panthers defense.
In fairness, the suspension to Davis does increase Thompson’s potential workload. The first four games of the 2018 season will give Panthers officials a real close look at whether or not Thompson is capable of filling Davis’ shoes in the long run. If he plays well, it should lead to a nice contract offer in the offseason. If he falters playing without Davis in the lineup, the team may be forced to look at other options to supplement their linebacking corps.
The smart money is on Thompson finding a way to prove his worth to the Panthers brass. They already have a lot of time and financial resources invested in him. Marty Hurney and company will give him every opportunity to prove he’s worthy of their investment.
The real key for Thompson will be to up his ability to finish plays without Davis on the field. When he’s playing next to TD and Kuechly he can afford to funnel tackles to his elder statesmen. When they aren’t on the field beside him, he needs to prove he can finish plays without help. That means he’ll need to increase his output in terms of tackles and sacks.
Thomas Davis’ suspension certainly puts more pressure on Shaq Thompson to open the season, but it didn’t do anything to change the Panthers’ decision about exercising his fifth-year option. That was always a given for the talented young linebacker.