By Bryan Strickland
CHARLOTTE – Offensive tackle Matt Kalil, a former Pro Bowler and the younger brother of perennial Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil, has signed a five-year contract to join his brother in Carolina.
"We went through a lengthy evaluation process, including exhaustive film study, and Matt's got everything we're looking for at the left tackle position," general manager Dave Gettleman said. "Matt's an all-around great player with ability as a run blocker and pass protector. He can play with power and aggressiveness and he has the toughness and competitiveness we expect from our offensive linemen. He will work with a great duo of offensive line coaches in John Matsko and Ray Brown who I know will maximize his talents. We're just really excited about being able to add him."
The fourth overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft by the Vikings, Kalil became an unrestricted free agent when the fifth-year option on his rookie contract expired at the end of the league year. Kalil started every game at left tackle his first four seasons and the first two games last season before a hip injury ended his year.
Matt Kalil was a Pro Bowler as a rookie, when he helped Adrian Peterson amass the second-most rushing yards in NFL history with 2,097. Ryan Kalil is a five-time Pro Bowler selected by the Panthers in the second round of the 2007 draft.
The Panthers entered free agency with their left tackle situation in flux, with starter Michael Oher spending the final 13 games of 2016 in the concussion protocol. General manager Dave Gettleman said at the recent NFL Scouting Combine that Oher remains in the protocol, though head coach Ron Rivera said Oher has been around the team facility more of late.
Q&A with Matt Kalil
CHARLOTTE – Unlike many players who relocate to a new city through NFL free agency, offensive tackle Matt Kalil had a plan in place for living arrangements even before he signed on the dotted line with the Panthers.
"He said I could live in his basement. He said I could live there for free," Kalil said of his older brother, longtime Panthers center Ryan Kalil. "So I think my wife and I are just going to move into his basement, maybe settle in down there.
"Nah. We're looking at houses right now."
The younger Kalil signed a five-year contract with the Panthers on the second day of free agency to unite with his brother. After spending the first four seasons of his pro career with the Vikings, the fourth overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft is ready to tackle a new challenge in a new yet strangely familiar feeling home.
On any thoughts through the years about playing for the Panthers with his brother: "It's one of those things that Ryan and I have talked about, that maybe you just bring up at a family gathering. Like, 'Hey, wouldn't that be crazy if we ever played together on the same team?' Once that opportunity kind of arose, it's kind of surreal still. I'm excited to be a Panther. It's a great organization, a great locker room. I know a lot of the guys on the team and a lot of the coaches. I wouldn't want to be any other place."
On running game coordinator John Matsko: "I think Matsko is one of the best offensive line coaches in the NFL, and I wanted to go to a team that is going to make me play to the best of my ability and break me out of my shell."
On whether playing with his brother is a good or a bad thing: "It could be both, Who knows? He might try to pull some pranks on me and play big brother. We'll see. It's going to be interesting, though. On a serious note, it's real exciting to play with Ryan. He's established himself as one of the best centers over the last decade. Just learning a lot from him and him helping me become a better play. We could turn out to be a great offensive line. I'm just excited to be a part of it. I'm looking forward to meeting the guys. We'll see what Ryan has in store. He's big man on campus, so to speak."
On the free agency process for him: "The Vikings offered me, and then we waited around until free agency and then the Panthers offered. Once that became a reality, that I could end up in Carolina and play with my brother, it was something I took interest in right away. It's the place I wanted to end up."
On impact of injuries on his recent play: "I think a little bit. This little hip thing I had (that landed him on injured reserve after two games last season), it's something I've had since college. I was something that progressed and got worse. They went in there and fixed it, and now this hip feels the best it's ever felt in a long time, even since college. Now that that's kind out of the way, I've been working out and quickness that I haven't had in a while has come back. That's exciting.
"My ball joint in my hip was misshapen. It sounds like a major surgery, but it's actually not that hard to fix if you go to the right guy. They've just got to kind of reshape that bone so it doesn't grind down to your joint. They went in there, made the joint round, cleaned up the labrum, and that's about it. Everything is moving the right way. Everything feels great. I just got cleared by the doctors. Everything has been going real well."
More of playing with his brother: "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play with your brother, a guy that you missed by a couple of years throughout your whole career. It's a chance to do that. ... It's still surreal, that I'm going to be playing with my brother, the guy I looked up to my whole football career. It didn't seem like I'd ever be able to play with him, my idol growing up. Me being in middle school watching him play at USC and running out of the tunnel at the (Los Angeles) Coliseum, and then me being in high school and seeing him being drafted by Carolina and actually going to the games when I was in high school. Four years doesn't seem like much, but I missed him every time."
On the change of scenery possibly doing him good: "I think my first couple of years with the Vikings were good, but I don't think I ever progressed the way I should have. That's not all on other people; it's on me as well. But there have been a lot of players who have changed scenery and have met that potential that everyone has talked about. It's a great change. It's new scenery, new coaching. I think it's all for the best. It's kind of reigniting that fire that I lost a little bit. I'm just excited to be a part of this organization and seeing what I can do on the field, especially being 100 percent healthy and feeling the best I have in a while."
On whether Ryan Kalil was a tough act to follow: "Not really. It was almost easy. He experienced a lot of things and made some mistakes – not big mistakes – but that helped me not make the same mistakes. To have those kinds of stepping stones and him setting the way, going through high school, through the college, through the NFL and having that person by your side, telling you what to expect, what to avoid, things you need to do to be successful – it's made my life a lot easier. He's been a big asset to help me achieve the things I want to achieve."