Panthers offensive tackle Gross set to retire
Panthers offensive tackle Jordan Gross is saying goodbye to the NFL after 11 seasons.
The Panthers confirmed the three-time Pro Bowl left tackle will announce his retirement at a news conference on Wednesday at the stadium.
"Jordan has been a great Panther and he will be missed," Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman said Tuesday in a text message.
Cam Newton agreed.
The Pro Bowl quarterback said in a text message, "It was truly a pleasure to play with Jordan. He always had my back. He will be missed."
Just who'll replace Gross at left tackle is uncertain.
Gross, 33, was a first-round pick by Carolina in 2003 and started a franchise-record 167 games. He went to his third Pro Bowl this past season as an alternate.
Gross' contract had expired with the Panthers earlier this month, but there was still some question as to whether he might agree to return for one more season. He went on vacation with his family last week to Idaho to contemplate whether or not to retire.
Gross told the team's website, Panthers.com, that it was the right time to step away.
"I've played a lot of football here, and I've seen a lot of guys come and a lot of guys go," Gross told the website. "Sometimes it ends well for guys, and sometimes it is not the ending they were looking for."
Gross said he didn't want to leave until the team was in good position for sustained success.
He believes the team is there now.
"There is good, young leadership, there are talented players, and there are guys that really want to work hard and want to win," Gross said.
Former quarterback Jake Delhomme, who played with Gross from 2003-2009, called him the "ultimate professional."
"He was a hell of a player, and a great gentleman," Delhomme said. "The thing is I don't believe he got the respect he deserved around the league."
Delhomme said the 6-foot-4, 305-pound Gross was extremely athletic, humble and driven.
"We he was a rookie in 2003, his initial thoughts heading into minicamp were 'Oh gosh, please don't (stink),'" Delhomme said with a laugh. "That was the mentality he always took. It wasn't a fear, but it was a mentality of, hey, I've got to be good every day. That's how Jordan prepared every day."
Panthers tight end Greg Olsen said he spoke to Gross recently and half-jokingly tried to convince him to return.
But he said Gross already had his mind made up.
"He's such a great player and I'm really happy for him," Olsen said. "When I talked to him, I know he feels good not only about his body of work and his career, but also the impact he had on this organization. He was always a stand-up guy. He has the respect of all of his teammates. He's the type of guy you want if you're an NFL franchise."
Gross joined the Panthers in 2003 and stepped right in as a starter, helping Carolina reach the Super Bowl as a rookie.
However, Gross spent the next 10 years trying to get back, but the Panthers could never make it past the NFC championship game.
Gross' decision creates a void for the Panthers at left tackle. Bruce Campbell, Garry Williams and starting right tackle Byron Bell are potential replacements, but the team could look for help in free agency or the draft.
The Panthers have the 28th pick in the draft.
Olsen said it will be difficult to replace Gross after the Panthers went 12-4 this past season, but said young players will have to step up.
"Jordan has been top notch for his whole career," Olsen said. "He's tough to lose. But every year it happens around the league — you lose players to retirement or injury. You have to move on and fill that role."
Wide receiver Steve Smith is the only remaining player from Carolina's Super Bowl team in 2003 that lost 32-29 to the New England Patriots on a last-second field goal by Adam Vinatieri.
Gross' current and former teammates immediately took to Twitter to comment on the news.
Said Smith: "Since 1999 until 2day @J2theGross and I have been in same huddle. Today its has stopped I salute JG, great player better man!!! Love ya."
Said Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson: "One of the best to ever play in a panther jersey. I wish he would stay but you gotta do what u gotta."
Offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz, a former teammate of Gross with the Panthers, wrote that Gross "was an outstanding mentor and I'm so thankful he decided to help me when I was a young naive rookie."
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