How much pressure is Panthers OLB Shaq Thompson under in 2021?

(Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports) Shaq Thompson
(Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports) Shaq Thompson /

How much pressure is on the shoulders of Carolina Panthers outside linebacker Shaq Thompson during the 2021 season?

Shaq Thompson went into the 2020 season with some serious ambitions to fill the leadership void left by Luke Kuechly. The perennial All-Pro linebacker called it a day for health reasons after eight glorious years with the Carolina Panthers, which was a body blow to an organization in the midst of a substantial transition period.

All the preseason talk where Thompson was concerned surrounded raising his game and becoming the defensive lynchpin for the Panthers. These plans didn’t exactly go according to plan.

The former first-round pick’s contribution could be described as solid if not spectacular. Pretty much par for the course during his career in Carolina so far.

There were some who speculated Thompson’s future with the franchise would be in doubt this offseason. The Washington product was set for a big pay increase and his production simply didn’t warrant an eight-figure salary moving forward.

Carolina opted to restructure Thompson’s deal rather than show him the door. This gave them some breathing space to strengthen problem areas in the current financial climate, although the outside linebacker’s cap number will soar to $18.26 million in 2022.

This means Thompson is going to have to play out of his skin to earn a stay beyond this season. Releasing the player next spring would cost the Panthers $5.79 million in dead cap money, which represents an eye-catching saving of $12.47 million.

The finances alone mean the pressure is well and truly on Thompson.

How he responds will ultimately decide his long-term future with the franchise.

The Carolina Panthers have better pieces around Shaq Thompson in 2021.

There is a lot to like about Thompson’s chances of increasing his performance next season. He’ll have a more stable presence alongside him on the interior after Denzel Perryman arrived in free agency from the Los Angeles Chargers, with the Panthers also having an improved secondary and a formidable-looking defensive front to call upon.

Thompson has gone over 100 tackles for two straight seasons. But his ability to generate pressure is non-existent and there remain some big concerns in coverage that cannot be ignored.

Now that some major changes have been made to the roster, Thompson is one of the last players remaining from the Super Bowl run in 2015. Putting this experience to better use in the coming months will be pivotal for the player and the Panthers, so there is a lot at stake for all parties involved.

The linebacker trio of Thompson, Perryman, and Jermaine Carter has some real energy about it. They also have Christian Miller returning from opting out and pass-rushers in Haason Reddick, Yetur Gross-Matos, and Marquis Haynes who could also assist when required.

What comes next will be down to Thompson. He’s got a lot of money on the line in 2021 and if improvements aren’t made, then Carolina will no doubt show him the door next spring.

However, if the veteran can raise his game and become the force he promised in the immediate aftermath of Kuechly’s retirement, then it might make the Panthers think twice about a potential parting of the ways.

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High stakes, obviously. But Thompson should focus on what he can control and let the chips fall where they may.