SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP) -Carolina Panthers safety Mike Minter, the team's career leader in tackles and one of its most popular players, has decided to retire because of chronic knee pain, a person familiar with the decision said Monday.
The person, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because an official announcement will be made Tuesday, said Minter made the decision over the weekend. He did not practice with the team Monday morning.
The 33-year-old Minter had said 2007 would be his last. But he said late last week he was considering retiring before this season because he was afraid his knees wouldn't hold up for an 11th NFL season.
Minter, the Panthers' second-round pick in 1997, is the franchise's leader with 953 tackles. His 141 starts and 94 consecutive starts are also team records.
Minter hasn't missed a game since the third week of the 2001 season, though he slowed in recent years and has taken longer to recover after games. He would often miss midweek practices.
During training camp this year, Minter was unable to practice twice a day and worried his knees wouldn't allow him to make the quick cuts and bursts necessary at free safety.
Minter's knee problems began in college, and he developed a staph infection following knee surgery during his second year with the Panthers in 1998.
He has said he thought his career was over then, but Minter worked his way back to become the mainstay in the secondary, shifting between free and strong safety.
Minter was part of the team's bad times - receiver Rae Carruth's arrest on a murder conspiracy charge and the 1-15 season in 2001. But he also reveled in the good times, highlighted by Carolina's trip to the Super Bowl after the 2003 season.
Minter, 5-foot-10 and 195 pounds, was known for vicious hits, especially early in his career. He had two interceptions for touchdowns during the Super Bowl season, and he was voted defensive team captain during each of the past five seasons.
Minter is involved in several community and business ventures, both by himself and with defensive end Mike Rucker, his best friend on the team and a fellow former Nebraska Cornhusker.
His standing on team was evident when his mother died unexpectedly during last season's training camp. Team owner Jerry Richardson, general manager Marty Hurney, coach John Fox and Rucker flew to Oklahoma for the funeral.
Minter came to training camp this year with a tape recorder, intent on remembering details of his final season. He has said he would like to work in the Panthers' front office.
Minter's decision to retire leaves Carolina thin at safety. Carolina acquired Chris Harris from the Chicago Bears last week. He most likely will start with Nate Salley, who has never played a down at safety in an NFL game, or Deke Cooper, who started 12 games at strong safety for Jacksonville in 2005.