Barring a Christmas miracle, the Panthers have just three games to play before the offseason begins in Carolina. That means this holiday season will be one spent looking ahead, not to the playoffs, but to the 2017 contract status of a handful of key players.
Corralled at his locker by reporters Friday, defensive end Charles Johnson became the first to address his future. The 10-year veteran, who looks likely to miss his second straight game with a hamstring injury, indicated he has no plans to make this season his last. And he made clear where he wants to keep playing.
“I’d rather lose with these guys than win with anybody else,” Johnson said. “These are my guys.
“If I can play with them and have fun and do what I want and also work at the same time, there’s not a lot of places you can do that.”
During an injury-plagued 2015, Johnson totaled one sack and 12 tackles while taking up $20 million of the Panthers’ salary cap. Set to make $10.75 million this season, Johnson was released in March. He then visited the Giants and Bucs before settling for less money to come back to Carolina.
Playing on a one-year, $3 million dollar deal, Johnson has just 4.0 sacks, but he leads the team with 24 quarterback pressures. So even though a soft tissue injury is costing him time for a second straight season, coach Ron Rivera claimed he’s not concerned about Johnson’s health.
“If he’s going to be productive and consistent like that, no,” Rivera said. “From the first game to the Seattle game, he was consistently productive.”
Like most players who hit 30, Johnson said he wants to keep playing until he stops having fun and “as long as my body feels good.” He acknowledged his future with the Panthers is “up to the people upstairs,” but even if he’s not playing in Carolina next year, the budding businessman won’t pull up his roots.
“I want to stay here regardless of the businesseses. I’m staying here regardless, period, if I’m playing with the Panthers or not. This is home for me,” Johnson said.
“I don’t want to go nowhere else, so hopefully it won’t have to come to that.”
And while the decision goes above Rivera, he hopes the same.
“He’s probably been our most consistent guy. Again, it’s about that steady, consistent play,” Rivera said. “I know people want to see these double-digit sack numbers, but what you see with Charles is the impact he makes throughout the game, the way he plays the game. And he’s been a tremendous leader.
“We’ll see how it all goes, but yeah, I’d love to have him back.”
Panthers’ 2016 Pass Rush
Of the many businesses Johnson has his hands in, none are as public as the restaurant he’s opening in Uptown Charlotte. Or, has been planning to open.
“I didn’t expect to be hit with a thousand permits,” he said.
Johnson originally hoped the multi-level restaurant would be ready in early October, but that business is sticky to begin with. Because this project is at the historic 4th Ward Fire House, it requires extra paperwork.
“This is my first time going through this process, and it wasn’t what I was expecting. I didn’t know you’d have to wait such and such amounts and get this permit and get that permit,” Johnson said. “So hopefully at the end of this year, we can start some construction.”