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When will Shaq Thompson retire? He has a guess. For now, he's happy, healthy with Panthers.

Alex Zietlow, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in Football

It wasn’t all that long ago when Shaq Thompson found himself in the Carolina Panthers’ locker room without much reason to smile — weighed down by a boot on his right foot, unable to help carry his team as it limped to a 2-15 season.

Today?

His smile’s back.

You could see it on the field during the Panthers’ mandatory minicamp, when his newly minted inside linebacker teammate Josey Jewell took a red zone interception to the house with Thompson and a few other teammates sprinting and screaming behind him. You could see it at the post-practice lectern, where Thompson told reporters he has so many reasons to be happy. The reasons flowed like water running down a hill. He got married in February. His kids are healthy. His trucking business called Run Logistics, which he started earlier this year, is off the ground.

“I still got a job, you know what I mean?” the fast-talking NFL veteran said Wednesday, punctuating his gratuity list with a laugh. “So everything’s good.”

Everything’s so good, in fact, that retirement isn’t at the forefront of the veteran’s mind. When asked on Wednesday, Thompson, 30, offered a guess on how many more years he has in his NFL life — and yes, the guess was accompanied with a smile.

“How many more years?” Thompson said. “I think I got about five in me. Spent four behind (Panthers legends) TD (Thomas Davis) and Luke (Kuechly). Broke my leg last year, so that added an extra year. That’s five right there.”

Five more years, of course, start now.

The 2024 season, Thompson’s 10th in the league, is an important one for the veteran who’s entering the final year of his contract. The linebacker took a substantial pay cut last offseason to stay in Carolina — he’ll be making $1.21 million in base salary plus $1.10 million in per-game bonuses this year — and is now playing for a new head coach in Dave Canales and a new face of the front office in Dan Morgan.

But the reasons for optimism don’t just stop at his off-field pursuits. Thompson is now fully comfortable in the 3-4 scheme defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero orchestrated with aplomb last year, he said — the one that saw Frankie Luvu flourish and the pass-defense dominate even as personnel atrophied and the offense stalled.

But most importantly — he’s healthy.

Thompson said he had two significant surgeries before the Panthers’ on-field offseason program began. The first came during the throes of the 2023 year, less than 24 hours after Thompson had his ankle crushed and was subsequently carted off the Bank of America Stadium turf in a Monday night game against the New Orleans Saints in Week 2. He was immediately deemed out for the year. The second surgery was this past offseason, a long-overdue operation mending a groin injury he sustained in 2020, Thompson said.

 

Getting his confidence back in his body — particularly rebuilding his lower body on the right side — was an early challenge this offseason, he said.

“The hardest thing to get back was to build that confidence,” he said. “You lose a lot of strength, a lot of ability on your right side, and you gotta compensate. So my body’s been compensating over these years, and so it’s finally back healthy, so I’m trying to get back and learn how to function the right way.

“The biggest thing probably was confidence that I was lacking early on. But shoot, it’s back now.”

Thompson updated reporters on a bunch of other topics last week. He said the defense “came together really fast” — even with the additions of Jadeveon Clowney and various others who have experience playing with Evero at other stops — and that he still keeps in touch with the leaders of last year’s defense who’ve since left. He emphasized that turning the opposing offense over this year — one of the few blemishes on a great defensive season — is a “must” this year.

He spoke highly of Jewell, saying he’s “completely different” than Luvu but someone who he feels like he’s been playing with for years. He’s teaching the new rookie linebackers drafted in April — Trevin Wallace (third round) and Michael Barrett (seventh) — like Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly once taught him: “There’s no position that’s going to outwork the linebackers.”

But mostly, in this good-vibes-spring-eternal part of the year, Thompson is remembering all the reasons he has to smile.

“I’m just trying to give the people what they want,” Thompson said, laughing, when someone pointed out his surprising ebullience. He then turned sincere. “But I mean, going into 10 years, I want to leave y’all with a good impression, whether I’m here or not here, you know what I mean?”

The Panthers certainly do.

So does Thompson himself — whose quest for five more years begins now.

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©2024 The Charlotte Observer. Visit charlotteobserver.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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