What will Peppers command?

Now that the Panthers know the minimum it will take to sign defensive end Julius Peppers, the big question becomes when they will do it.

The Indianapolis Colts' decision to make Dwight Freeney the highest-paid defensive player in the league -- he received a six-year, $72 million contract with $30 million in bonuses the first two years - gives the Panthers and Peppers' agent Carl Carey a benchmark to work with. While neither side will publicly admit it, both were waiting to see just how the Freeney negotiations played out. It played out in Peppers' favor.

You can bet Carey will be pushing for a new deal that surpasses that of Freeney and he'll almost certainly get it.

Quite frankly, Carey would be crazy to settle for anything less than $72 million.

Although Freeney has more sacks than Peppers (56.5 to 53.5) since they came into the league together in 2002, any NFL scout will tell you Peppers is a superior player against the run and is considered a more complete defensive player overall.

And the numbers back it up.

According to NFL stats, Freeney has 169 total tackles in five seasons, while Peppers has 250.

The team considers re-signing Peppers a major priority, but there's no pressure to get a deal done before the start of the regular season since his contract runs through 2008. Nonetheless, there are incentives for both sides to get it done soon, which could mean they work out a deal sooner rather than later.

For the Panthers, it's a salary-cap issue. Peppers, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, has restructured his contract so many times and reached so many of the incentives in his original rookie contract that he's set to cost the team just over $14 million under this year's cap and $16.1 million next season. That's about 15 percent of the entire salary cap. The benefit of a new contract for the Panthers is it could actually give them some cap relief over the next two seasons by spreading Peppers' signing bonus over the next several seasons.

As for Peppers, it's about financial security.

There's something to be said for striking while the iron is hot and right now it's blazing. If he were to sustain some bizarre career-ending injury next season at least he'd have an extra $30 million (in bonus money) in the bank.

Even if he receives $12 million a year, Peppers' contract will still dwarf that of teammate Steve Smith, who earlier this off-season signed a six-year contract worth $43.9 million, or about $7.3 million per season.

A holdout scenario should not be a concern in the Peppers talks - at least not this year. The only way that happens is if Carey raises the bar too high causing the Panthers balk and negotiations drag into next summer.

CAMP CALENDAR: Players report to training camp on July 27 with two practices set for the following day. Camp ends Aug. 21. The Panthers have no scrimmages scheduled with other teams, a philosophy they have followed for the past six years under head coach John Fox.

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