Panthers LT Jordan Gross to retire

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers Pro Bowl left tackle Jordan Gross will retire, the team announced Tuesday.

Gross will discuss his decision Wednesday during a news conference at Bank of America Stadium.

Gross, 33, told Panthers officials after the season he would either retire or return for a 12th season with the team that selected him in the first round of the 2003 draft. He let the team know his decision after a skiing trip out west.

The three-time Pro Bowler restructured his contract last season, voiding the 2014 season that would have been the final year.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said last week at the NFL combine that the team needed a decision from Gross before free agency begins next month.

"We've got to find out which of our young guys is going to step up," Rivera said. "Are they the answer, or do we have to go out in free agency and find the answer, or in the draft?"

Right tackle Byron Bell is the only option currently on Carolina's roster, and he has struggled. The Panthers likely will look to sign a free agent and draft an offensive tackle.

There has been speculation that Carolina could use the 28th pick on a receiver, but Gross' decision increases the likelihood the selection could be used on a tackle (a deep class is available).

Panthers veteran wide receiver Steve Smith, who also was Gross's college teammate at Utah, took to Twitter to praise the offensive lineman.

Gross has 167 career starts, the most in team history. He helped Carolina reach the Super Bowl as a rookie and finished his career with a trip to the Pro Bowl.

"Jordan was a great Panther and he will be missed,'' general manager Dave Gettleman said in a text to ESPN.com.

Cam Newton agreed.

In a text message to The Associated Press, the Pro Bowl quarterback said, "It was truly a pleasure to play with Jordan. He always had my back. He will be missed.''

Gross said after the season that, whenever he retired, he hoped to stay with the team in some capacity.

"I've played a lot of football here, and I've seen a lot of guys come and a lot of guys go," Gross told the team's website recently. "Sometimes it ends well for guys, and sometimes it is not the ending they were looking for. I knew that this was the time for me to step away -- happy, healthy and thinking fondly about my experience."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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