Last offseason, we pondered the question of whither Julius Peppers (not once but twice), and then we reflected once Peppers decided to play the season in Carolina for the $18-million plus franchise tag. Now, Peppers is on the precipe of the open market again, and we once again think we know how this whole situation should play out.
If the Panthers want to keep Peppers for another year, it’ll cost 20 percent more than it did in ’09. That $20-million-plus outlay is strong, even in an uncapped year. And since Peppers continues to seem disinclined to sign a long-time deal in Carolina, it seems as though the Panthers’ only choices are the franchise tag or letting Peppers go. And letting him go is what the Panthers should and will do.
Peppers had 10.5 sacks last year, which is solid but not spectacular enough to justify the league-topping salary. And that’s pretty much his average season, since he has 81 career sacks in eight years. He’s an immense talent who is a very good but not great player. Even more, Peppers doesn’t want to be a franchise standard. He’s felt the pressure of being a North Carolina kid who went to North Carolina and then played his career at home, and he’s ready to leave the Carolinas for greener pastures somewhere else.
All those reasons are fine, but if the Panthers didn’t have other options on the free agent market, letting Peppers go would be unadvisable. But this year, even with the market limited by the potential uncapped year, there are pass rushers available. Someone like Aaron Kampman of Green Bay or Kyle Vanden Bosch of Tennessee or Richard Seymour of Oakland or even Adewale Ogunleye of Chicago could approach 10 sacks at a far lesser cost than what Peppers would cost in Carolina. And while Seymour and perhaps Vanden Bosch will get tagged, a couple of those guys will break free. And the Panthers have always shown the willingness to make quick, aggressive strikes in free agency – the kind of approach that could guarantee the arrival of someone like Kampman.
This move would save the Panthers $10 million or more this year, and it could help them hold onto Tyler Brayton, a solid if unspectacular run-stuffer who has started across from Peppers the last couple of years.
So that’s what the Panthers should do, and that’s what we expect they will do. Panthers fans, say goodbye to Peppers – and hope that a Vanden Bosch or a Kampman is on his way to Charlotte ASAP.