The Panthers put to rest any doubts about their plans for DE Julius Peppers by announcing they would not place the franchise tag on him before Thursday's deadline for using it.
Peppers' salary for 2010 would have been at least $20.1 million under the tag.
"With the magnitude of the contract, the tender that it would take to franchise him and how it fits into the big picture with our team, we made the decision to not franchise him," Panthers GM Marty Hurney said. "Obviously, it's a very difficult decision because he's a tremendous player."
Peppers will become an unrestricted free agent on March 5 and will be allowed to sign with any team he chooses.
"Last night, I learned that the Carolina Panthers would not restrict my availability during the upcoming free-agency period," Peppers said in a statement released by his agent, Carl Carey, on Tuesday. "I feel good about having the opportunity to visit with other teams. My goal will be to find the right match for my skill set.
"I am thankful for the eight seasons I have spent in the National Football League thus far and am looking forward to beginning this new phase of my career," Peppers said.