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Panthers' Russell Okung considered opting out, but retirement 'nowhere near imminent'

Alaina Getzenberg and Jonathan M. Alexander, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in Football

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Although Panthers left tackle Russell Okung considered opting out of the 2020 NFL season, he is "completely committed" to being a part of the team this season and retirement is nowhere near imminent, said his agent, J.I. Halsell.

Reports emerged Friday that the 10-year veteran tackle was mulling retirement after considering opting out of the season due to concerns related to COVID-19. Although Okung did put serious thought into opting out of the season, something that was common throughout the league, retirement is not in the near future and he is genuinely committed to being a part of the Panthers this season.

"Retirement is nowhere near imminent. And it's not being used as a ploy to get a new contract; that will take care of itself at the appropriate time, and we're on the same page with the Panthers in that regard," Halsell told The Charlotte Observer. "In uncertain times, players have to keep all their options open, but for as long as it makes medical sense for Russ and his health, again, he's completely committed to the Panthers."

Okung was acquired in a trade in March, with the Panthers sending their former Pro Bowl guard Trai Turner to the Chargers in exchange for one of the league's best left tackles. Okung only has one year remaining on his contract and is due over $13 million this season.

The deadline for players to opt out of the 2020 season because of COVID-19 was Thursday at 4 p.m. Two Panthers elected to not play this season, including pass rusher Christian Miller, who was a high-risk opt out. Players can now only opt out of the season if a close family member gets seriously sick with COVID-19 or if the player is newly diagnosed with a high-risk condition. That would leave a player like Okung with limited options if he felt his health was at risk.

Okung, 31, who suffered a pulmonary embolism from blood clots last June, likely would also have been considered a high-risk opt-out, which would have made him eligible for the $350,000 stipend allotted to players, and a pause in his contract.

In a one-on-one interview with The Observer last month, Okung said he was not worried about the contracting the coronavirus while playing football.

"I believe in the resiliency of the human body, especially its application with nature," Okung told The Observer. "And I try my best to be grounded and eat organically, eat extremely well. Whether I get sick or not, I'm going to do my best to overcome it.

"That's a long way of saying, I am not terrified of the coronavirus. I'd much rather continue to live life as best as I'm allowed to."

 

He has passed his COVID-19 tests thus far and has been participating in practices during the first week of training camp. He has not been made available to media since training camp began.

Okung, a two-time Pro Bowler, started his career with the Seattle Seahawks, where he was taken sixth overall in the 2010 NFL draft. He won a Super Bowl with the Seahawks before joining the Denver Broncos in 2016. He then went to San Diego the following season before joining the Panthers.

"I don't know anything about that. I couldn't comment on that," Panthers head coach Matt Rhule said on WFNZ radio when asked if Okung was mulling retirement. "That actually was something that just was mentioned to me. I hadn't heard that."

Next in line at the position is second-year tackle Greg Little, who dealt with multiple injuries during his rookie season.

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