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Kawann Short's absence has to be concerning for Panthers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera said repeatedly on Tuesday that he wasn’t concerned by the absence of Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kawann Short.

He said repeatedly that these sessions of organized team activities are voluntary and that he’ll coach the players that are here.

He said he wasn’t disappointed.

He said it wasn’t a distraction.

In other words, he said all the right things, the things he had to say. Organized team activities are voluntary.

Wink wink.

But you know deep down Rivera is irked that Short has missed four consecutive sessions and likely will make it five and six over the next two days.

You know general manager Dave Gettleman is too.

Rivera even sounded a bit irritated, if for anything because he spent over half of Tuesday’s press conference talking about a player who wasn’t there. He doesn’t typically like doing that.

His most telling comment came when explaining that wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin was absent taking care of a personal issue and defensive end Kony Ealy was sent home because he was sick.

"The thing I appreciate, for most part, everybody has told me what’s been going on with the exception of one person," Rivera said.

That one person would be Short.

You can't technically call this a holdout because OTAs are voluntary, but this is a holdout.

The Panthers are trying to negotiate a long-term deal with Short, who is entering the final year of his rookie deal. Short has every right to ask to be paid among the top five defensive tackles based on his 2015 numbers -- his 11 sacks tied for the most at his position. That likely would be between $13 and $16 million a year.

Not participating in OTAs is the only leverage Short and his agent, Joel Segal, have of pushing the issue, because the 2013 second-round pick is under contract for this season.

Guess what? Gettleman doesn’t like to be pushed.

Cornerback Josh Norman and his agent did that two months ago. It was made clear Norman wouldn’t participate in OTAs because the two sides were so far apart in a long term deal.

The Panthers rescinded the franchise tag on Norman before OTAs began, making him a free agent and allowing him to sign with the Washington Redskins.

The Short situation shouldn’t come to that. He’s under contract to count $1,473,289 against the 2016 salary cap. That’s chump change for a player with Short’s numbers. It would be beneficial for both sides to get something done.

Gettleman never thought the $13.952 million he was going to pay Norman in 2016 was beneficial if a long-term deal wasn’t reached, so he walked away.

Gettleman also understands he can’t keep developing players for other teams just because they want a lot of money.

“I struggle with our coaches working their fannies off, developing players and letting them walk," Gettleman said around the Norman situation. “I don't like that. I've always believed that the cap can be a great equalizer. I really believe it penalizes teams that draft well."

But, in that same breath, Gettleman admitted you can’t keep everybody.

“It's impossible," he said. “So now you have to decide who you're going to allow to graduate."

Gettleman made contingency plans in case Short graduated and went elsewhere. He drafted defensive tackle Vernon Butler in the first round.

By the time Short is scheduled to graduate after the 2016 season, Butler should be ready to step up, if he lives up to all the things the Panthers saw in him on draft day.

Short’s absence in OTAs has given Butler more time to fast-forward his development. He spent Tuesday working with the first team beside Star Lotulelei, Carolina’s first-round pick in 2013.

So, from that standpoint, Rivera was true to his word that he’ll coach who is there. This team got to the Super Bowl by developing players, not egos.

Short never has shown a big ego, so it would come as somewhat of a surprise if he missed a mandatory three-day mini-camp next week. It also wouldn’t be good for Short’s bank account, costing him $76,580.

“Next week is mandatory, so we’re expecting (him) here," Rivera said.

If Short shows, then this doesn’t blow up into a big distraction. If he doesn’t, there has to be concern this could linger into training camp.

Seattle Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor held out of training camp last season, wanting the team to restructure a deal that had three years remaining on it.

The team held pat, and Chancellor eventually returned after missing the first two games.

This was a product of Seattle’s success, as well as Chancellor’s. The Panthers faced that with Norman, and are again with Short.

“It’s one of those things he’s got to decide what he wants to do," Rivera said. “Since it’s voluntary, we’re not too concerned about it."

That could change in a week.