CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Carolina Panthers outside linebacker Brian Burns sat out his second consecutive practice Monday because of a contract dispute, raising questions about whether the two-time Pro Bowler will play in Sunday’s regular-season opener against the Atlanta Falcons.
Burns also missed practice last Thursday, although the team would only say at the time it was for “personal reasons.”
But after the Panthers returned to practice on Monday following a long weekend, Burns again sat out a walkthrough practice and coach Frank Reich ultimately indicated it is because of his contract situation.
Burns is set to make $16 million this season in the final year of his rookie deal, but is seeking a big contract extension. Burns has 38 sacks in his first four seasons with the Panthers. Only Julius Peppers has had more sacks for the team in his first four seasons.
“I’m not involved in the contract negotiations at all,” Reich said. "I’m just worried about getting my team ready to play Atlanta. Do I hope he is there? Absolutely I hope he is there. If he’s not there, I’m not worried about it. Just move forward.”
Despite sitting out practices, Burns continues to attend team meetings at Bank of America Stadium.
He briefly walked through the locker room on Monday, but refused to answer questions from reporters.
Burns had participated in practices throughout training camp despite not having a new deal, saying it was important for him to be with his teammates and prepare for the season.
“My view of Brian Burns doesn’t diminish at all,” Reich said of Burns' decision to suddenly skip practice. "We understand there is a business side to this thing we do, and I still respect and admire the way he has handled himself. I have nothing but the highest regard for Brian Burns.”
That said, Reich admitted not having Burns will make things tougher, especially after the Panthers placed backup outside linebacker Marquis Haynes on injured reserve Monday with a back injury.
“It’s hard, yeah," Reich said. "I can say — and both of these things can be true — that I love and respect Brian Burns and he has to do what he has to do. But does that make it harder? Yeah it makes it harder. That is just the facts and I’m sure he understands that. You can’t find more of a team guy than him. But life is complicated sometimes so we keep moving forward day by day.”
Panthers inside linebacker Shaq Thompson was among several players who defended Burns' decision.
“Everybody here knows, everybody outside of here knows, everybody in the stands know, everybody above us knows he deserves what he should get paid," Thompson said. “They know to make it right before Week 1.”
Thompson said he believes the situation will get resolved this week, calling it a “gut feeling.”
“We know he’s gonna be out there at the end of the day," Thompson said. “He knows he’s gonna be out there at the end of the day. Everybody upstairs (in the front office) better know he better be out there by Wednesday. He’s a big factor in this defense. He’s the one it really starts with.”
Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer did not return text messages and phone calls from The Associated Press seeking comment.
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Steve Reed, The Associated Press