CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -Mike Rucker plans to return to the Carolina Panthers next season.
After spending more than a month contemplating his future, the defensive end said Monday he's decided against retirement and hopes the Panthers want him back.
``I'm just going off the way my body feels and the way my heart feels,'' Rucker said. ``At the end of the day, I still have that drive and I still have something to offer.''
Rucker, who turns 33 on Feb. 28, ranks second in team history with 553 tackles and 55 1/2 sacks. He becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of the month.
Rucker said he has yet to talk to coach John Fox and general manager Marty Hurney about his decision to return.
``I don't think we ever want to do anything through the media, so we don't know anything until we sit down and talk to him,'' Hurney said. ``We'll sit down with Mike and we'll go from there.''
playoff seasons, the Panthers are expected to shake up their roster. Carolina was next-to-last in the league with 23 sacks and could be looking to replace Rucker with a younger defensive end.
Third in team history with 139 games played, Rucker hasn't ruled out returning as a backup. Rucker paused when asked if he'd be willing to play for another team.
``Nine years, plus my heart and tears,'' Rucker said. ``I haven't even (gone) down that path yet.''
The decision to return caps an emotional 14 months for Carolina's second-round pick in 1999, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee late in the 2006 season. Rucker took a pay cut and went through a grueling rehabilitation program, but was on the field for the start of training camp eight months later and regained his starting position.
Rucker struggled early and acknowledged he was favoring his left knee, but finished with 57 tackles and three sacks.
``In my wildest dreams, I didn't think I could have played the snaps and stayed as healthy this year,'' Rucker said.
Rucker was in Phoenix for a few days last week before the Super Bowl, where he spent time his brother Martin. A tight end from Missouri, Martin Rucker hopes to be taken on the first day of April's NFL draft. The chance to play in the league with his younger brother was part of Rucker's decision to put off retirement.
``I'd be lying to you if I said that wasn't a piece of it,'' Rucker said.

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