CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Coach Ron Rivera downplayed concern over the team's latest contract situation with a top defensive player becoming a distraction for the NFC champion Carolina Panthers.
Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short abruptly stopped attending the team's voluntary OTAs last week and hasn't been back to work since.
''It's voluntary, so he decided not to come,'' Rivera said. ''It's one of those things where he has to decide what he wants to do, but since it's voluntary we are not that concerned about it.''
However, Rivera said he expects Short to attend next week's three-day mandatory minicamp.
It's unclear if Short plans to attend. He and his agent Joel Segal could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
Short is hoping for a long-term contract. He's entering the final year of his rookie deal which would pay him $1.4 million, grossly under his market value.
The 6-foot-3, 315-pound Short outperformed that deal last season when he was twice named NFC defensive player of the month and tied for the NFL lead for sacks by a defensive tackle with 11. It's expected Short could command more than $13 million per season with a long-term deal based on NFL defensive tackles with comparable numbers and skillsets.
Short is not the first contract issue the Panthers have encountered after reaching the Super Bowl last season.
The team originally placed the franchise tag on All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman, then rescinded it after getting the feeling that Norman wasn't ''all in'' in terms of his commitment to the team. In short, they worried about Norman becoming a distraction on a team with great chemistry.
The decision allowed Norman to become a free agent and two days later he signed a five-year, $75 million contract that included $50 million in guaranteed money.
Short could be eyeing a similar deal.
''We will coach who is here,'' Rivera said. ''You would love to have everybody here but it is voluntary.''
There has been an upside to Short being out.
It has allowed this year's first-round draft pick Vernon Butler to see extra reps with the first team at defensive tackle playing alongside Star Lotulelei.
''I'm trying to get better every day and learning from the older guys,'' Butler said. ''Star, he is helping me out. You get a lot of stuff thrown at you. But I've been in my playbook and I'm studying.''
Butler is anxious to pick Short's brain, so he can improve on his pass-rushing ability.
The 6-4, 323-pound Butler had only five sacks during his career at Louisiana Tech.
''You see a young guy who is learning and growing,'' Rivera said of Butler. ''He's making some mistakes, but you see his athletic ability and his explosiveness. It's good that he's getting opportunities right now.''
Rivera wouldn't describe Short's absence as problematic.
He understands these business issues come up quite a bit in the NFL, especially when a team - and therefore individuals, too - experiences a lot of success.
Short's teammates understand, too.
''We get his situation,'' said safety Tre Boston. ''He can take his time. Right now we will continue to play ball.''
NOTES: Rivera said wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin was excused from practice while dealing with a personal issue and defensive end Kony Ealy was sent home early because of an illness.
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