We hear the Panthers don't want DE Julius Peppers to get away, but sources in Charlotte don't expect that he and the team will agree to a long-term extension before he becomes an unrestricted free agent in March. There's a decent chance he has played his final game with the Panthers.
Peppers likely isn't going to release a statement lobbying for a chance to play elsewhere, as he did last year around this time, and he may not need to. Word is Carolina will not use the franchise tag on him again, after tagging him in 2009. Using the tag would allow the Panthers to listen to trade offers for Peppers and prevent him from departing without some compensation in return. His salary, however, would rise to $21.8 million for the 2010 season under the one-year tag, and that's a price the Panthers apparently aren't willing to pay.
They could put the tag on Peppers and try to deal him away, but that's a risky move — no team will likely be willing to empty the coffers with a package of draft picks and the lucrative deal it will take to acquire Peppers and sign him to a contract.
The Panthers learned in '09 that spending so much money on a one-year deal for one player may not be the wisest strategy, even for someone as talented as the eighth-year veteran. Peppers' base salary was $16.7 million in 2009 after getting tagged, and his large salary prevented the team from signing free agents in the offseason. Salary-cap constraints will not exist, of course, in 2010, as the league will have an uncapped year if the owners and NFLPA don't establish a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
There's uncertainty about just what the market for Peppers will be once he becomes an unrestricted free agent. He was selected to his second consecutive Pro Bowl after making 10½ sacks and forcing five fumbles in '09. He has had double-digit sacks in six of his eight seasons, but the perception remains that he doesn't play to his potential on a consistent basis, and that could stop some suitors from paying the top dollar Peppers will be seeking. Some insiders in Charlotte say Peppers could come back and work out a deal with the Panthers if he isn't able to find a better deal elsewhere.
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