The two-time Pro Bowl pass rusher has been in team meetings, and was seen smiling in the locker room on Monday, but Burns isn’t taking part in workouts because of a “personal matter,” according to head coach Frank Reich. Burns previously missed last Thursday’s practice before the team’s three-day weekend off.
While Reich deferred to Burns on the reasoning behind his absence from the practice field, Burns didn’t answer questions in the locker room Monday. Burns and the Panthers are in the middle of negotiations for a contract extension, as Burns enters the final year of his rookie deal, worth $16 million.
“Honestly, I’m at the stage in this where I’m not involved in the contract negotiation — at all,” Reich said. “I have zero (input). At this point, I have expressed — (owner) Mr. (Dave) Tepper, (GM Scott Fitterer) asked me my views on certain things — I expressed my views. I’m just worried about beating Atlanta, and getting our team ready to play Atlanta, really. That’s all that’s on my mind. Do I hope that he’s there? Absolutely, I hope he’s there. But if he’s not there, I’m not worried about it, just move forward.”
While Reich said he isn’t concerned about Burns’ potential absence from the opener against the Falcons, the head coach did admit that outcome would impact the team’s plans for Atlanta.
“It’s hard,” Reich said. “Both of these things can be true: I can say I love and respect Brian Burns and he’s got to do what he’s got to do, but does that make it harder? Yeah, it makes it harder. That’s just the facts. I’m sure he understands that. And you can’t find more of a team guy than him.”
Reich and Burns have a great relationship, according to the head coach, and Reich doesn’t view Burns any differently based on how the veteran is handling negotiations.
“My view of Brian Burns doesn’t diminish at all,” Reich said. “We understand there’s a business side to this thing we do, and I still respect and admire the way he’s handled himself. I have nothing but the highest regard for Brian Burns.”
Linebacker Shaq Thompson said Burns’ absence from practice hasn’t impacted the way the locker room looks at him, either.
“It’s Brian — we know what type of guy Brian is,” Thompson said. “Brian is family first. We’re his brothers. He’s going to be here regardless. ... He wants to be around us. We want him to be around us. We love him — we all got his back. ”
Thompson, who returned to the team on a pay cut this offseason, is eager to see Burns back on the field. The longtime captain hopes that Burns will return to practice by Wednesday when the team starts preparing for the Falcons in earnest.
“We need him every day,” Thompson said. “We need (a return) by Wednesday. We need to see him in pads by Wednesday. I need to see my brother on that field.”
Reich praised the way Yetur Gross-Matos and DJ Johnson, this year’s third-round pick, have handled their respective transitions into new positions this summer. Gross-Matos and Johnson will be counted on heavily if Burns were to miss the opener.
For now, though, Reich is keeping all of his options open.
“I think you have to prepare for all options,” Reich said. “You have to think the best, hope the best, but prepare for all options.”
Marquis Haynes heads to IR
Adding to the intrigue and urgency aligned with Burns’ absence is the recent loss of veteran pass rusher Marquis Haynes.
The team placed pass rusher Haynes (back) on injured reserve on Monday. Haynes missed the majority of training camp and the entire preseason with a back ailment.
He will miss at least four games before he can return to practice.
“He did have a little setback when he went out and tested it one day,” Reich said.
Haynes is coming off a career season with five sacks in 2022. He was considered the favorite to start opposite Burns at outside linebacker before sustaining the back injury in July. The Panthers eventually signed veteran Justin Houston, who will take on the top role opposite Burns.
With Haynes shelved, the Panthers will need to rely on Amare Barno, Gross-Matos and Johnson (presumably) behind Burns and Houston during the next four games.
Haynes said the stint on injured reserve will give him time to recover at his own pace.
“It’s kind of nice to know — if there is anything wrong with my back — we can get that issue squared away with the time we’re given,” Haynes said. “The training staff and the coaching staff, they’re really going to do the best thing we can for my back, and for my me, moving forward, to make sure I recover 100 percent.”
▪ Number change: Defensive lineman LaBryan Ray has switched from No. 67 to No. 93.
▪ The Panthers have moved rookie wideout Jonathan Mingo’s locker to the right of of Adam Thielen’s post. Presumably, Mingo can use Thielen as a regular sounding board with them serving as neighbors in the locker room.
▪ The Panthers have 51 players on their active roster and 15 players on their practice squad. Entering Tuesday — the typical business day for transactions in the NFL regular season — Carolina can add two more players to the main roster and one more to the practice squad.