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Brian Burns' status for Panthers' opener uncertain amid contract dispute

A refreshing, optimistic offseason and training camp has encountered an unexpected bump in the road to Week 1 in Carolina.

Edge rusher Brian Burns' status is in question ahead of the Panthers' season opener at the division-rival Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. The reason: He and the Panthers don't appear close to agreeing on a contract extension.

Panthers head coach Frank Reich told reporters on Monday he wasn't certain whether Burns would hold out until he gets a new contract. Reich also admitted he has "zero" involvement in contract talks with Burns, who Reich hopes will be available to play this weekend in Atlanta.

Burns declined to comment when asked about the matter Monday. Reich, meanwhile, struggled to formulate a response when asked if it was his understanding that Burns wouldn't play without a new deal.

"I don't know the answer to that question," Reich said.

Burns' issue with his current contract is simple: He's entering the fifth and final year of his rookie contract, and is seeking long-term security at a rate that matches his production (38 sacks, 196 tackles and seven forced fumbles in four seasons). His dispute didn't become apparent until recently, though, when the 25-year-old sat out of practice last Thursday.

Unlike the rest of the preseason -- in which Burns fully participated, earning the respect of veteran Justin Houston, who once experienced his own contract dispute in Kansas City -- Burns has exercised a bit of leverage, raising concerns about whether he'll suit up as the season begins.

Burns initially downplayed the matter, telling reporters he couldn't afford to miss time because of money.

"No fault to anybody who is not participating,'' Burns said last week, via ESPN. "But we've got something special, and I'm a big part of it, so I can't miss no time. I've just got to be here.''

Something appears to have changed in recent days. With Burns declining to speak, reporters had to look elsewhere to gauge the temperature of the locker room. Long-time Panthers linebacker Shaq Thompson didn't have much to offer on the matter, but he did acknowledge that as a key member of Carolina's future, Burns deserves to be paid.

"I really don't like talking about other people," Thompson said, per The Associated Press. "But everybody here knows, everybody outside of here knows, everybody in the stands knows, everybody above us knows what he deserves and what he should be getting paid. They know what to do to make it right before Week 1."

It seems increasingly unlikely the Panthers will, as Thompson said, make it right with Burns by striking a deal with him before Week 1. Carolina has a game in six days, leaving the Panthers with little time to finalize an extension -- unless ample progress has already been made.

If anything, this story is a new wrinkle in Carolina's previously pressed suit. It's never ideal to discover a wrinkle right before the big meeting.

"My view of Brian Burns doesn't diminish at all," Reich said on Monday. "We understand there's a business side to this thing we do, and I still respect and admire the way he's handled himself. Nothing but the highest regard for Brian Burns."

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