Carolina Panthers nickel back Captain Munnerlyn says he left “millions” on the table last winter when he returned to Charlotte rather than re-sign with the Minnesota Vikings.
The lost wages haven’t bothered Munnerlyn as much as the diminished playing time in his second stint with the Panthers.
But it sounds like that won’t be a problem this weekend when Munnerlyn faces his former Vikings teammates at Bank of America Stadium in a matchup with big NFC playoff implications.
Outside linebacker Shaq Thompson, who also plays the “big nickel” spot, missed Wednesday’s practice with plantar fasciitis in his left foot. Panthers coach Ron Rivera says he’s not optimistic about Thompson’s status for Sunday, meaning Carolina’s smallest player could have a big role against his old team.
“I know his frustration as far as not getting as many snaps as he’d like,” Rivera said. “Sometimes you say be careful what you ask for because you’re about to get a whole bunch with Shaq’s situation.”
Munnerlyn, 5-9 and 195 pounds, played 95.8 percent of the defensive snaps in 2013 when the Panthers won the NFC South before he left in free agency. With Thompson seeing a lot of “big nickel” work, Munnerlyn’s playing time has dipped to 42.4 percent this season, according to Pro Football Reference.
But after squawking publicly earlier in the year, he’s trying to keep a more positive outlook.
“If my role is to play 10 to 15 snaps, I’ve got to go out and play the best 10 to 15 snaps I can. I can’t worry about how many snaps I’m getting,” he said. “I can’t count my reps. I’ve got to make my reps count.”
Munnerlyn also doesn’t want to get caught up in counting the money he gave up when he signed a four-year, $17.5 million to deal to come back to the Panthers, who drafted him in the seventh round out of South Carolina in 2009.
“I wanted to be back home. I left some money out there, but it’s OK,” he said. “But if it’s meant for me to get it, I’ll get it one day.”
The Panthers were glad to get him back. During Munnerlyn’s three years in Minnesota, Rivera said Carolina could not find a nickel to duplicate his production in the slot.
And though he’s not playing as much as he’d like, Munnerlyn says he has few regrets about returning to Charlotte, where he maintained a home and where he’s now building a new house.
Rivera has always appreciated what Munnerlyn adds to the defense – and the locker room.
“He’s one of those guys that because he’s gregarious, I think guys feed off of that,” Rivera said. “I’ve always enjoyed having him around.”
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer says he also appreciated his time with Munnerlyn, who remains in touch with Xavier Rhodes and Minnesota’s other defensive backs through group text messages.
But with the Vikings (10-2) riding an 8-game winning streak and the Panthers (8-4) fighting for a playoff berth, Munnerlyn says he’s putting the niceties aside this week.
“We need this game as a team (and) those guys are playing real well,” Munnerlyn said. “I’m going to try to stay away from those group chats this week because I’ve got to focus in, I’ve got to lock in and I’ve got to go out there and compete.”