This is what happens when you go from a 15-win season to one where you may not win half as many games.
The Carolina Panthers, who led the NFL with a team-record 10 Pro Bowl selections in 2015, had just four players placed on this year’s roster, which was announced Tuesday night.
Tight end Greg Olsen, linebackers Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly, and fullback Mike Tolbert will represent the Panthers in Orlando during the final weekend of January.
It’s unclear if Kuechly, who may not play again this season, will suit up for the exhibition game. His fourth straight Pro Bowl selection is especially impressive considering he’s played at least four fewer games than his peers. But it seems that, at just 25, he’s already grandfathered in.
“I think a lot of it speaks to who he is as a man and the reputation he’s built for himself around the league as a classy competitor,” defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said. “He does things the right way and you see the respect that the opponent has for him. Whether it’s guys on the offensive side of the ball or fellow defensive players around the league, there’s seemingly a mutual respect for Luke and how he handles himself.”
Because it took Davis so long to make his first Pro Bowl, his second appearance is somewhat of a surprise. But it’s certainly deserved for the 12th-year pro who’s just eight tackles away from his fourth straight 100-tackle season, and who’s not as close to retirement as Monday night’s broadcast may have suggested.
Like Davis, what used to be elusive is becoming a tradition for Olsen. It’s the third consecutive selection for a guy who’s just eight yards away from becoming the first tight end in NFL history with three straight 1,000-yard seasons.
Tolbert, meanwhile, gets in because fullback is one of the NFL’s thinnest positions. With the Panthers severely cutting back his touches this season, Tolbert’s short receiving score in Washington was his first touchdown in more than a year. But he’s now made the Pro Bowl in three of the past four seasons.
Because Super Bowl-bound players can’t play and so many others say “thanks but no thanks,” there’s a chance the Panthers could add more names to this year’s Pro Bowl roster.
“I wish our record was better because a few more guys would get consideration,” coach Ron Rivera said. “Guys like Kurt Coleman and KK (Short) most certainly would be in that conversation. And Trai (Turner) and Andrew Norwell. We’ve had a number of guys that have had tremendous seasons that deserve the recognition.”
If not for a shoulder injury that cost Ryan Kalil half the season, he may have gone to a sixth Pro Bowl. That would have broken a five-way tie between him, receiver Steve Smith, defensive end Julius Peppers, tight end Wesley Walls and return specialist Michael Bates for most in team history.