Carolina Panthers edge rusher Christian Miller has elected to opt out of the 2020 NFL season.
After not seeing much playing time in his rookie season last year as an outside linebacker, Miller, 24, had an opportunity to start over during this year's training camp with a new coaching staff and revamped roster. He would have provided depth for the Panthers on the outside as they transition back to a 4-3 base defense from last year's 3-4, but was not a lock to make the final roster.
Miller, a fourth-round pick in 2019 out of Alabama, is considered a high-risk opt out and will earn $350,000 this season. His contract will be paused and all provisions that would have applied in 2020 will be applicable to 2021. Unlike the voluntary opt outs, the stipend for high-risk players is not considered a salary advance.
"After a lot of thought and prayer, I have decided to high-risk opt out. This was an emotional and extremely tough decision for me but one that I ultimately feel is the right and safest decision for me and my family," Miller said in a statement. "I am proud to be a Panther, and I am genuinely excited about the direction we are going under Coach Rhule and his staff. I wish the entire organization nothing but the best for 2020, and I can't wait to rejoin them again in 2021."
Miller, a Columbia, S.C., native, played in just seven games last year. He injured his ankle midway through the season and saw little playing time over the second half of the year. He finished his rookie season with three tackles and two sacks. Both of his sacks came against the Cardinals in Week 3.
"Anybody that goes through the opt-out process puts a lot of thought in it and we respect everybody's decision. Everybody has their own set of circumstances and has to make the best decision for them and their families. That's number one," Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said Monday. "These are different times, and we totally understand that if player wants to opt out. We totally respect that decision ... the safety of everybody in this building, and the safety of their families come first to us."
Corey Miller, Christian's father and former NFL linebacker, told the Observer in a phone interview that his son was eager to play. Miller was excited about the upcoming season, his father said. But the uncertainty of COVID-19 and how the NFL would handle that played a part in his son's decision to opt out.
"I know the Panthers have done an outstanding job of prepping the facilities," the elder Miller said. "But it's not what they are doing. You're still going to have to worry if every player is going to do the right thing when they leave there.
"I support him, and his mom and his brother do as well."
Corey Miller said he recently had a close family member test positive for COVID-19 who had to spend time in the hospital. At the time, they weren't sure if that family member was going to survive.