When asked if wants to be back with the Panthers next season, defensive end Julius Peppers has repeatedly refused to say he does.
"Ideally I want to be in the best situation possible for myself and this organization," he said. "I'm thankful for everything they've done for me, and I don't want to leave them crippled or in a bad situation and I don't want to do that to myself either. So whatever works out best for both sides is what I'm comfortable with."
Peppers' comments on Sunday as he left Bank of America Stadium left everyone wondering if he isn't positioning himself for the NFL version of a sign-and-trade deal with the Panthers similar to what happened with Jared Allen last year.
That'd basically mean the Panthers would put the franchise tag on Peppers and then allow him and his agent to broker a trade with another team. While the Panthers would lose Peppers, leaving them with a huge hole at defensive end, they'd at least get some draft picks - presumably high and presumably more than one - in return as compensation.
Before the 2008 season, the Kansas City Chiefs couldn't reach a long-term deal with Allen, the NFL sack leader in 2007. They put the franchise tag on him and then traded him to Minnesota for a first-round pick and two third-round picks.
For the Panthers that would be better than a whole-lot-of-nothing, which is what they'd get if they simply let Peppers walk as an unrestricted free agent.
If Peppers played for the Panthers under the franchise tag, he would make $17 million next season or 120 percent of what he made in 2008.
Along with defensive end Julius Peppers, there are a number of players who could be headed out the door this offseason.
CB Ken Lucas: He got burned repeatedly this season and seemed to lack confidence after Chris Gamble got a contract extension. With Lukas set to count more than $9 million next season against the salary cap, look for the Panthers to cut ties with him. "I can't answer that question," Lucas replied when asked if he'd be back next year.
"I'm not part of the personnel department. I just play. If they call my name, then I'll be back, but if not, I enjoyed my time here. That's how I look at it. You can't stress about stuff like that you can't control."
LB Landon Johnson: A hip injury (although not serious) in the playoffs should only expedite Johnson's release. At $10 million over three seasons, he was a big swing-and-miss this past offseason. The Panthers would be stupid not to free up some cap room by cutting him with two years left on his deal. Besides, Dan Connor should be back next year.
LB Adam Seward: Nobody wants out of Carolina more than Seward, who is frustrated over being deactivated for most of the second half of the season by Fox. He wanted to sign with New England last year and in a few weeks he'll be free to go where he wants as an unrestricted free agent.
OG Geoff Hangartner: Another unrestricted free agent, he played in a lot of games for Carolina and it wouldn't surprise me if he bolts for a place where he can start if the money is right. Somebody's going to offer him starter's money. Keydrick Vincent said he will be fine to go in minicamp, so Hangartner's chances of starting next year are nil with the starting five basically set in stone, providing Jordan Gross re-signs.
WR D.J. Hackett: Hackett contributed little for the Panthers this season with 13 catches for 181 yards and no touchdowns. He was deactivated for the playoff game. Remember when he was supposed to be the starter? That never worked out so well, did it? Look for him to get cut with one year left on his deal.
DT Darwin Walker: He's an unrestricted free agent and his career might be over with anyway. Walker injured his neck in a car accident this year and was never the same after that. Like Hackett, he was inactive for the playoff game. Look for Carolina to add more help at defensive tackle in free agency.
LB James Anderson: It's hard to imagine Anderson, a former third-round draft pick, coming back next year unless he wants to do so as a low-budget special teams guy.
Out the door?
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