Panthers' Minter may retire before start of season

SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Just one day after Carolina officials thought they had addressed a hole in their secondary by acquiring two-year veteran safety Chris Harris in a trade with the Chicago Bears, the Panthers could be faced with filling an even more significant void.

Ten-year veteran safety Mike Minter, who had already announced that the 2007 campaign would be his last, acknowledged Friday afternoon that he might retire before the start of the season. The all-time franchise leader in terms of starts (141) and consecutive starts (94), Minter is having knee problems and has missed several practices in training camp.

"Can I still do it at a level that's acceptable to me?" said Minter, who has been limited to just one practice session per day. "I have to go through camp to find that out. We'll just have to see how the knees [respond]. I don't know yet."

Minter, 33, said he has discussed with general manager Marty Hurney and coach John Fox the possibility of retiring before the season begins. He revealed his deliberations, which were seen here as a bit of a bombshell, in an impromptu discussion of the addition of Harris to the secondary.

On Thursday, the Panthers sent a fifth-round choice in the 2008 draft to Chicago in exchange for Harris, who arrived here early Friday morning, passed his physical exam and began to learn the Carolina defensive playbook. Harris worked sparingly in the morning practice, and spent most of the session receiving instructions from secondary coach Tim Lewis.

Before the acquisition of Harris, Minter was the team's lone veteran safety of consequence. The Panthers opted not to re-sign veteran Shaun Williams, who started with Minter in 2006, and lost Colin Branch in free agency. Second-year veteran Nate Salley, who was projected as a starter, injured his knee earlier this week. Although the injury is not deemed serious, it is not known when Salley will return to practice.

The loss of Minter, the Panthers' second-round pick in the 1997 draft, would have an impact for Carolina on and off the field. Minter is viewed as a team leader, a solid guy in the locker room, and is widely respected.

But injuries have begun to take a toll, Minter admitted, noting that he has undergone three knee surgeries and that he beat the odds by playing 10 seasons in the league.

"If I was to show you the [medical reports] from when I came in here as a rookie, you would be shocked that I was able to do it this long," said Minter, who noted that a staph infection in his second season nearly ended his career. "I was bone-on-bone even back then. I went through a lot to keep playing."

For his career, Minter has 953 tackles, 10 sacks, 17 interceptions, four interception returns for touchdowns, 81 passes defensed, 16 forced fumbles and 10 recoveries. The former University of Nebraska star is the leading tackler in franchise history. He has registered 100 or more tackles in four seasons.

Minter said he worked diligently in the offseason to prepare for his final year, but that the grind has been even worse than anticipated, even at this early stage of camp. He said that he has no timetable for making a definitive decision, but that he thinks about it day-to-day, and will probably reach a conclusion sometime in camp.

"I've always been my own worst critic," said Minter. "People won't have to tell me. If [retiring] is the right thing to do, then I'll do it. I don't want to go out this way. I'd rather play my final season. But we'll have to see how camp proceeds."

Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com