Julius Peppers will remain with the Carolina Panthers next season -- if not longer. Not just because he signed his one-year, $16.7 million franchise tender Wednesday, but because the team has no plans to trade the four-time Pro Bowl defensive end and because it made no promise to him that it won't slap the franchise tender on him again in 2010.
"Julius signing the one-year tender shows that he is happy and comfortable to be here, and we have said all along that we feel that way," Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said on a conference call. "Everybody knows how valuable he is to us."
Peppers' agent, Carl Carey, didn't return voice or text messages seeking comment.
Hurney said Peppers' signing of the tender wasn't a gateway for the Panthers to trade the defensive end and that he will be with the team when training camp opens Aug. 2. Hurney added that there were "no contingencies" in place for the team not to tag Peppers again next year should an agreement on a long-term contract fail to be reached. Hurney declined to say if long-term contract talks have taken place or will.
Peppers might not want a deal that will keep him with the Panthers much longer.
Several players from around the league have said for years that Peppers has told them he wants out of Carolina, although no specific reasons were given why the former University of North Carolina standout desired to play elsewhere. Those reasons became somewhat clearer this spring when Peppers and his agent said that the seven-year NFL veteran no longer wanted to play end in the Panthers' 4-3 defensive front and that he would prefer to be an outside linebacker in a 3-4 set.
That fostered speculation that the New England Patriots, among others, could be a trade partner for the defensive end. But Peppers greatly diminished his chances of being dealt when he failed to sign his tender before the April draft since players can't be traded if they carry an unsigned tender. Once the draft passed, it was assumed that Pepper would return to Carolina, where he has played his entire career.
There could be other reasons why Peppers wanted a change of scenery, but that doesn't matter for the immediate future. Hurney downplayed the acrimony.
"We've known Julius for seven years," Hurney said. "He's been the same guy for seven years, the same valuable player to us. We haven't seen a change in that. We're lucky enough to have known him for seven years. He's a very competitive, prideful person that has always, through his actions, shown that he likes being a Carolina Panther, that he likes being here and that he likes his teammates."
Though Peppers said he had no problems with his coaches, several members of the Panthers' defensive staff, including coordinator Mike Trgovac, weren't retained for 2009.
Peppers will remain at right defensive end, where he is among the NFL's best against the run and pass. Peppers had 51 tackles, 14.5 sacks and five forced fumbles in 2008, and he returned to the Pro Bowl last season after posting a career-low 2.5 sacks in 2007 when he was at left end.
The Panthers selected Florida State defensive end Everette Brown in the second round of the draft as a pass-rush specialist in case things broke down with Peppers and as insurance in case he gets hurt or is allowed to test free agency after the season. For now, though, Brown will play a complimentary role to Peppers.
For now, Peppers will play for the Panthers.