FORT MILL, S.C. — The 2013 season may be the final year Jordan Gross and Ryan Kalil play together on the same offensive line.
But they aren’t viewing it that way.
Ten-year left tackle Jordan Gross restructured his contract with the Panthers this week, agreeing to a contract that voids after next season rather than after the 2014 season. He also swallowed a pay cut of more than $3 million.
“No future years are guaranteed, so you go in treating every year as it could be the last year,” Kalil told the Observer from a Bank Trail Middle School classroom following a Play 60 pep rally promoting heart health. “You could get hurt and not ever play again so you don’t go by the years on contract. You take it a year at a time. I think Jordan and I have been very fortunate to stay on the same team for a long period of time, which isn’t very commonplace in our profession. Obviously we’ve been very fortunate in that regard and with that obviously you have friendship and continuity with the offensive line.”
Gross’ restructured deal took his 2013 base salary from $8.7 million to $1 million, but a contract extension through 2017 gave him a $4.5 million signing bonus. The deal lessened his cap hit, but the contract voids sooner.
“To restructure you have to decide how it helps or hurts you and then you have to decide where your priorities lie,” Gross said. “Whether it’s getting every absolute last dollar or staying with the team or moving your family. So there’s a lot to take into account.
“For me, I was told by the team that they wanted to do something and it took us a while to get to it because I had to think about it a lot but in the end it was a situation that was good for me and my family and good for the team so it made sense.”
Gross agreed that little is guaranteed when it comes to NFL contracts. He said you could look at the restructured deal two ways: that he took a pay cut, or that he still has a job.
“I’ve always said I want to stay here and want the team to win, and when I came in we went to the Super Bowl,” Gross said. “And I feel responsible for not being back to that level and so I’d like for that to happen while I’m here. Leave it how you found it, or better.”
Last year’s offensive line struggled with consistency due to injuries along the front. Kalil went out in Week 5 with a broken foot, which spurred several movements along the line. The Panthers had eight different starting combinations on the offensive line in 2012, the most of any position group on the team.
They opened holes for the league’s ninth-best rushing attack and were in the middle of the NFL in sacks allowed with 36.
Kalil noted the difficulty of keeping five offensive linemen healthy for a 16-game season. But in addition to health, Kalil said continuity in the offense’s system will be important heading into next season.
The Panthers promoted former quarterbacks coach Mike Shula to offensive coordinator earlier this year after Rob Chudzinski took the Cleveland Browns head coaching job.
The pieces are there, Kalil said, and now it’s a matter of getting them all to fit.
“Having the same terminology and same schemes and concepts will be very helpful for us in not having to hit the restart button,” he said. “Jordan and I were talking about it this morning. It’s tough not winning with this team because there are so many great guys in the locker room who care about the organization and care about winning so it’s tough.
“There are times you get around guys who are mercenaries and are there for themselves. But this is a special group.”