Miami Dolphins

Burned out in Miami, Cortland Finnegan has a new lease on life with Panthers

The Panthers’ Cortland Finnegan, right, celebrates after making an interception against the Seahawks during the second quarter in the divisional game at Bank of America Stadium.
The Panthers’ Cortland Finnegan, right, celebrates after making an interception against the Seahawks during the second quarter in the divisional game at Bank of America Stadium. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Cortland Finnegan was done.

Done with the football. Done with the marathon practices in August.

And definitely done with the Dolphins.

“That was the hardest time in my life, as far as how much work [former coach Joe Philbin] asked guys to do,” Finnegan told the Miami Herald this week. “It just didn’t make sense for a guy who’s older in years to be able to do what rookies were doing.”

Finnegan added: “I knew Lou [Anarumo, the Dolphins’ defensive backs coach] would be back and the dynamics, it would have been the same thing. No matter who you got, it was going to be the same defense. For me, it didn’t make sense. Why kill yourself again in another training camp to maybe have a knee replacement five, 10 years earlier than you’re supposed to, because he’s not giving you a break?”

So Finnegan made a clean break. He retired, even though he had another year on his contract.

When he took the cleats off his balky ankle after the Dolphins’ 2014 finale, he never planned to put them back on.

Then came a late-November call from the Carolina Panthers.

And just like that, he was back.

He signed on with the then-undefeated Panthers to provide veteran depth and special teams help. He has done that and more.

Finnegan expects to play a significant role Sunday when his Panthers try to shut down Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50.

“You can’t put it into words,” said Finnegan, who turned 34 on Tuesday. “It’s been wonderful. The fact that you get to be alongside guys in this defense and be a part of this is a dream come true. It took me 10 years just to get to the playoffs again, let alone the Super Bowl.”

And he’s not just along for the ride. He’s doing his part. Finnegan played 43 snaps on defense and 13 more on special teams in the Panthers’ NFC Championship Game flogging of the Cardinals.

He’s healthy. He’s fresh. And, most importantly, he’s happy.

“This [is] a more joyous situation,” Finnegan said. “How does a team that’s 11-0 give you a call and say, ‘Hey, we want to add depth, but we also want to add some veteran guys to the team. Are you interested? Come work out.’ I’m like, ‘What? I haven’t been playing football or doing anything football related.’ 

Finnegan kept in shape by playing basketball but didn’t really expect another opportunity.

But corner-needy teams called when the season progressed. The Patriots were one of them.

The Panthers were another.

After he signed with Carolina, star linebacker Luke Kuechly was the first person to take him to dinner.

Kuechly’s message: Do your job — no more and no less.

Finnegan’s job Sunday will, in large part, to chase Denver’s slot receiver. That means he will likely see a lot of Emmanuel Sanders.

He will also see a lot of Manning, whom he faced twice a year when both players were in the AFC South.

Many think that Sunday will be Manning’s final game — win or lose.

But Finnegan is leaving open the door for a return in 2016.

“You know, I don’t know,” Finnegan said, when asked if he would retire again this offseason. “There’s so much thought, effort in everything that I put into this week, watching every game the Denver Broncos have played, every release that a slot receiver could take. I would do myself an injustice to think any further than Sunday.”

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