CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Offensive tackle Jordan Gross is saying goodbye to the NFL
Gross, 33, was a first-round pick by Carolina in 2003 out of Utah and stepped right in as a starter, helping the Panthers reach the Super Bowl as a rookie. He spent his entire career with the Panthers, making a team-record 167 starts and earning three Pro Bowl berths while establishing himself as a mainstay in the locker room and Carolina community.
The 6-foot-4, 305-pound Gross is one of the longest-tenured players in Panthers history. Only former kicker John Kasay (221) and receiver Steve Smith (182) have played in more games than Gross. He missed only nine games in 11 years.
"Jordan's had a fantastic career," Panthers guard Geoff Hangartner said. "He's been a great player on the field, a standup guy off the field and had the kind of career that anybody would aspire to have."
Gross planned to play through the 2014 season. But when he agreed to restructure his contract last year to help the team with its salary-cap situation, the new deal was set up to automatically void this month.
That made Gross a free agent, but he had said he would only play for the Panthers. Gross' retirement was not entirely unexpected: He told the Charlotte Observer during Pro Bowl week he'd had a fulfilling career.
"I've been to a Super Bowl. I've been in the Pro Bowl. I've won the division. I've been 2-14. I've been carted off the field. I've been celebrated off the field," Gross said. "I've had almost everything happen to me that can happen, short of winning the Super Bowl. I feel like I'm a very content person."
Former quarterback Jake Delhomme, who played with Gross from 2003-09, called him the "ultimate professional."
"He was a hell of a player, and a great gentleman," Delhomme said. "The thing is I don't believe he got the respect he deserved around the league."
Gross would like to stay in the organization in some capacity, although he indicated he didn't want to coach. He and Dana, his wife of 12 years, plan to remain in Charlotte with their two children.