The Carolina Panthers have been relatively active during the free agency period. The team added depth to a depleted offensive line with the signing of former Viking Matt Kalil, brought back native son Julius Peppers, who at 37 still provides a good pass rush, and signed cornerback Captain Munnerlyn who returns to Carolina after spending the last three seasons with the Vikings.
These veterans will obviously bring a lot of knowledge, experience and familiarity to the Panthers locker room (Julius Peppers and Captain Mannerlyn were both drafted and spent extended periods with the franchise and Matt Kalil is the brother of Panthers’ Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil), but will they also bring some tension?
Last year when the Panthers played the Minnesota Vikings, Munnerlyn, who at the time was a starting corner for Minnesota, made some disparaging comments about Carolina receiver Devin Funchess after the Vikings held him without a catch.
“I think we just knew where Benjamin was the whole time. Funchess, we weren’t worried about him. It was Kelvin Benjamin,” Munnerlyn said to reporters after the game. “I’m just going to be honest. Me personally, and I never talk like this, but I don’t think he is that good, No. 17. So, we weren’t really worried about him. We were worried about Benjamin and Ted Ginn Jr. and Corey Brown. We knew they were getting the ball and receiving well. We just tried to communicate and make plays.”
Captain also had a few things to say about his former team:
“When we took the lead … I know those guys. I knew it was over,” Munnerlyn said. “I’ve been in that locker room before, so I knew. Those guys really don’t play well when they are down.”
Captain isn’t the only one who made the news for questionable antics against his former squad. During Cam Newton’s 2015 MVP season, the quarterback’s ritual of giving touchdown balls to young fans became wildly popular. When the Panthers played Pepper’s Packers that season, Julius ripped the ball from Newton and threw it to the ground as Cam was headed to give it to a young Carolina fan in the stands.
With these two now back the question is, will their actions as opponents affect the lock room dynamic as teammates? Munnerlyn, who maintained a relationship with a lot of guys who still play for Carolina, says it won’t be a problem.
“That’s just what I felt at the time,” Munnerlyn told me in the phone interview, “and I’ve never been the type to bite my tongue. I’m a competitor, and I said what I felt. I’ve already talked to a lot of guys on this defense – Luke (Kuechly), Charles Johnson, TD (Thomas Davis) – and they were all wanting me back. I think we’re all fine on that. I’m a competitor, and that’s just what I believed then.”
Other than providing some interesting training camp battles and colorful trash talk, I don’t think these incidents will affect Carolina’s locker room as a whole. These are grown men and professionals. They understand that things are said and done during heated competition. Plus, there are a lot of veterans in the Panthers’ locker room who know Peppers and Munnerlyn and can vouch for them as players. Ultimately, as long as everyone has the same goal (winning a Super Bowl), all the pettiness from before can be put behind.