By Joseph Person The Charlotte Observer
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Offensive tackle Jordan Gross, a player whose name has been synonymous with the Carolina Panthers for more than a decade, has played his last snap.
Gross, who went to the Super Bowl with the Panthers as a rookie and played in the Pro Bowl in January in his final game, has decided to retire after 11 seasons, the team confirmed Tuesday.
Gross will address the media at an afternoon news conference Wednesday at Bank of America Stadium.
The Charlotte Observer was the first outlet to report Gross’ retirement Tuesday.
Gross, 33, 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 the community.
“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 had 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, although he had said he would only play for the Panthers. Gross’ retirement was not entirely unexpected: He told the 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.”
Gross had two conversations with general manager Dave Gettleman about his future after the season. The two were scheduled to meet again this week after Gettleman finished at the scouting combine and Gross returned from Utah, where he had been vacationing with his family.
But Gross had made up his mind.
“Jordan has been a great Panther, and he will be missed,” Gettleman said in a text message.
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.
“Playing in the NFL gives you a lot, and it takes away a lot,” Gross told the Observer in January. “Your health, your time with your family, your emotional well-being.”
Hangartner, one of Gross’ closest friends on the team, said Gross was able to go out on top after helping lead the Panthers to the playoffs and earning his third Pro Bowl berth.
“He’s still playing well. I’m sure that was part of it,” Hangartner said. “But it was a great season for the team, and I think he was just ready to move on to different things.”
Gross’ retirement leaves the Panthers with a gaping hole at left tackle, where Gross has been the starter since 2008.
Gettleman will explore internal and external options to find a successor to protect Cam Newton’s blind side. Byron Bell, who has struggled at times at right tackle, is the only viable candidate on the roster.
The Panthers, who pick 28th overall, can look for help in the May draft, which boasts a deep group of tackles. Gettleman took defensive tackles with his first two picks last year, and it’s likely he goes after a couple of offensive tackles in the draft this year.
Gross was the Panthers’ first-round pick in 2003 out of Utah and stepped in immediately as a starter at right tackle on a team that remains the only one in franchise history to reach the Super Bowl.
Gross later shifted to left tackle and became one of the longest-tenured players in team history. Only former kicker John Kasay (221) and receiver Steve Smith (182) have played in more games than Gross’ 167.
Gross missed only nine games in 11 years. Hangartner said he admired Gross’ enthusiasm on days when he knew Gross was dragging or wasn’t feeling 100 percent.
“He never moped around and didn’t give you a full day’s work,” Hangartner said.
Several of Gross’ teammates posted tributes to him on Twitter.
Smith, whose own future with the team has come into question, tweeted: “Since 1999 until 2day (at)J2theGross and I have been in same huddle. Today it has stopped I salute JG great player better man!!! Love ya.”
Defensive end Charles Johnson called Gross “one of the best to ever play in a panther jersey” on his Twitter account.
Hangartner is flying from Austin, Texas, to Charlotte on Wednesday morning to attend Gross’ retirement ceremony. Hangartner had trouble singling out one or two highlights for a player who will be a strong candidate for the team’s Ring of Honor someday.
“There’s so many things to say about the guy — his practice habits, his work ethic,” Hangartner said. “His leadership will probably be the lasting thing that people remember about him. Everybody in the locker room looked up to him and aspired to be like him. I think anybody you would ask, if there’s somebody they’d want to be like, it would be Jordan Gross.”