As the Panthers look poised to pick an end in the first 90 picks of the draft, a former stalwart said goodbye this week. Mike Rucker, seemingly already replaced in theory (but not in reality), retired, stating he "had nothing left".
Now, the vaunted front four (or six, as the team viewed the rotation) from the early years of the Fox tenure are gone but Julius Peppers (actually, all of that 2002-03 defense is gone other than Peppers, adding in the departures of Minter and Morgan last year). Trade rumors about Peppers, possibly including the addition of a 2nd pick in the top 20, aren't likely true, but it would keep the team from paying Peppers and finish off the idea of putting together a playoff run for the moment and building properly as they did in 2002-03.
Rucker takes his place along with guys like Mike Minter as Rucker's teammate, friend, and business partner, as a huge part of Panthers history. Players of that caliber being drafted and finishing strong careers in a Carolina uniform testify to the strength of the franchise. Both are selfless men that embody the team concept more than anyone other than Sam Mills himself.
Fourteen years ago, we all dreamed of becoming a powerhouse team, and by this time, players like Kerry Collins and Tshimanga Biakabutuka would have retired with Pro Bowls, rings, and the end of an era would've been gone. That never worked out; you don't start out dreaming big of how the "little strong safety" will be your first bigtime player to retire. You don't look at Rucker's drafting, 9 years ago, as the first piece of something huge. You look at the Dan Morgans, the Rae Carruths. Mike Rucker was so much more than that, and to the benefit of this franchise and to himself, we were blessed to have him.
Did Richardson push Rucker out?
Rucker took less money to stay as a Panther last year, in a move that worked out well. While some complained that Rucker took time away from guys like Stanley McClover or Charles Johnson, Rucker was the more productive player. As the offseason process wore on, it was former Raiders first round pick Tyler Brayton, not Rucker, signed, as Rucker stayed in Afghanistan aiding the troops. Rucker had made it clear before the season he'd be fine as a backup, and that likely meant a job being a part-time rusher or run stopper.
Upon returning, Rucker was advised by Jerry Richardson to retire now; that he would end up being unhappy playing another year in another city. It's not likely that JR would force Rucker's hand, but the team had moved on and certainly didn't encourage Rucker to play. Without stating any negatives or ulterior motives, it's certainly interesting that Rucker's decision was made so clear by the team.
More End News
Relating to Peppers' contract, which is a continuing saga in the salary cap situation for the near future, Jared Allen was traded to the Vikings for a 1st, two 3rds, and a new $74 million contract. The deal had $31 million in guarantees. Undoubtedly, Peppers' camp will expect to net something in this range, which is certainly more than any agreement a year ago would've cost.