CHARLOTTE, N.C. | Richard Marshall couldn't stay away.
The competitive fire, pride and sense of responsibility to his teammates eventually overwhelmed the business aspect of his life that saw the Carolina Panthers cornerback become one of the casualties of the NFL's labor strife.
So after skipping the team's offseason conditioning program and not showing up to last month's minicamp, Marshall is on the field this week for voluntary workouts despite no sign of a long-term deal.
“I was never angry,” Marshall insisted Tuesday. “I know it's a business and you know what to expect. I wasn't angry at all. I'm here now, happy, ready to practice with my teammates.”
After moving into the starting lineup last season and tying for the team lead with four interceptions, the 5-foot-11 Marshall probably would have received a significant payday this offseason – under normal circumstances.
With four years of service, the 2006 second-round draft pick would've been an unrestricted free agent if owners hadn't ended the collective bargaining agreement early.
When they did and implemented no salary cap this season, a bevy new rules went into effect, including one that required six years of service to be an unrestricted free agent.
So Marshall became a restricted free agent. And then while the Panthers could have offered him a one-year tender worth more than $3 million, they offered only the second-round tender of $1.759 million.
No team made Marshall an offer, which the Panthers could've matched or let him go in exchange for a second-round pick. Carolina, not interested in any long-term deals with the labor uncertainty, also made no attempt to sign Marshall past 2010.
“They haven't talked to me,” Marshall said.
After consulting with his new agent, Drew Rosenhaus, Marshall decided to stay away from Carolina's offseason conditioning program. Since he hadn't signed his tender, he also couldn't fined for missing last month's mandatory minicamp.
Marshall didn't show, but it wasn't easy as he worked out alone.
“It was real difficult because I've been here for every offseason. I consider myself a team player, a team guy,” Marshall said. “It was unacceptable as far as me not being here for my teammates. But it was a decision that I made.”
Marshall told his teammates he'd show up this week, and coach John Fox was impressed with his physical condition.
“We've talked. I just wanted to make sure, and he knows this, that he doesn't do anything to hurt his performance,” Fox said. “I don't think he has at this point. He's obviously worked very hard. He's not the first guy to ever miss our offseason conditioning that came back in great shape. He's here now and looks very good.”
Linebacker Thomas Davis is in the same situation as Marshall. He also would have been an unrestricted free agent under the old rules, but was offered a $3.268 million tender from Carolina. Davis, who is working his way back from knee surgery, attended minicamp last month.
“It's very important to have a guy like Richard Marshall back,” Davis said. “A lot of the younger guys we have on this team look up to veterans like Richard, guys who have come in and played well and done great things for this team. It's just nice to have him back. He's in good spirits.”
Marshall and Davis have until June 15 to sign their tenders, or the Panthers could withdraw them and instead offer deals for 110 percent of their 2009 season.
Faced with that plight, they have few options. But Marshall insists he's not bitter and only concerned about continuing the improvements Carolina made on defense late last season.
“I'm here right now and my main focus is being here and practicing with the team,” Marshall said. “My contract, I'm not worried it about right now.”
NOTES: LT Jordan Gross participated in individual drills with the linemen for the first time since he broke his right leg on Nov. 15 against Atlanta. “I feel better than I felt in years because I had a six-month hiatus,” Gross said. “It's nice to be back out with the guys.” … After ranking 27th in passing in 2009 and with inexperienced QBs Matt Moore and Jimmy Clausen competing to replace Jake Delhomme, Fox is focusing on the passing game in the first week of drills. … Rookie QB Tony Pike can't participate because school is still in session at Cincinnati.