Now that the Carolina Panthers have taken care of middle linebacker Dan Morgan with a five-year, $28 million contract extension, what about the guy who starts next to him on the field and sits next to him or across from him at every meal?
That would be outside linebacker Will Witherspoon. He and Morgan have been starting together - at least when Morgan is healthy - since midway through Witherspoon's rookie season in 2002.
General Manager Marty Hurney and Witherspoon's representatives have been talking since spring about the possibility of signing Witherspoon to a long-term extension. But Morgan loomed ahead of Witherspoon on the Panthers' priority list.
Now Morgan is locked up through 2010, and logic dictates that Witherspoon is next. But Hurney, Fox and even Witherspoon and Morgan know that it isn't that simple when it comes to cramming another long-term contract under the NFL's ever-changing salary cap.
"Shoot, I want 'em all. You know what I mean?" Fox said. "But unfortunately, that's not the way the business works.... There are a lot of ifs there. Keeping everybody together is harder than it sounds - both from a contractual standpoint and from a health standpoint."
Since Fox's arrival and Hurney's promotion to general manager after a 1-15 season and the firing of George Seifert as coach (and head personnel man) in 2001, the Panthers have pledged to build through the college draft and keep the core of their team together.
They've stuck to the plan with remarkable consistency. They have nine of their 11 starting defensive players locked up at least through the 2007 season. They have in the past three years prevented key players from becoming free agents by securing contract extensions with quarterback Jake Delhomme, wide receiver Steve Smith, defensive end Mike Rucker, safety Mike Minter, defensive tackles Kris Jenkins and Brentson Buckner, and place-kicker John Kasay.
Giving Morgan his extension was just another piece wedged into place in the grand plan. Getting Witherspoon in the fold as well would represent yet another piece.
"Any time you keep a very good player, it is very important to your defense - and Will is an outstanding football player, just like Dan," Hurney said. "The more continuity you can have, the better off you can be. When we started out, we said part of this so-called plan was to identify our key players and keep them.
"Will is definitely an excellent player for us and we would like to try to keep him if at all possible. So we're trying to get something done there."
Witherspoon and Morgan certainly would like to see it done. They've not only grown to be a solid team on the field, but they've become very close friends away from it.
"With Dan getting done, that's another step in the right direction," Witherspoon said. "Of course we'd love to stay together. As well as we work together now, the more and more time we're able to keep playing together will make it that much easier for us and better off for the team as a whole. I hope it works out."
Morgan added: "Any time you can keep the continuity, especially when it involves your best friend, it's great. So I would love to see them re-sign him, too. We'll see what happens with him."
Fox said that he's at least cautiously optimistic that eventually Witherspoon will be signed for the long haul.
"That's something where we're continuing to talk," Fox said. "We're very receptive on our end. It's something that we want to do. It just takes time, and you can't do everybody at once."