Two twists in Peppers saga

By Charles Chandler
Updated: June 25, 2009

CHARLOTTE — The five-month Julius Peppers saga took two dramatic turns Wednesday. First, the Carolina Panthers announced their Pro Bowl defensive end had finally signed his offer sheet and would play for them this season.

Then, late in the evening, agent Carl Carey said Peppers was satisfied with his contract situation, and also open to considering a possible long-term deal.

For about two years, Peppers has resisted the Panthers’ attempts to sign him to a contract extension, turning down offers that would have made him the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player.

Peppers’ change of heart apparently occurred after recent meetings with team officials.

“Julius has always had tremendous respect for the individuals in the organization, and he had the opportunity to sit down face to face and talk with the people he’s had great respect for,” said Carey.

“Sometimes it takes a discussion to begin to understand each other’s perpectives.”Carey’s comment amplified a statement Peppers released through Carey earlier in the day.

“I’ve had positive and productive discussions with the organization,” Peppers said in the statement. . “I am optimistic and focused as I look forward to the upcoming NFL season.”

The Panthers have a three-week window to discuss a contract extension with Peppers because of the NFL’s July 15 deadline for all teams to sign players who were given the franchise player designation to a long-term deal.

If Carolina doesn’t sign Peppers to an extension by then, they would have to wait until after the 2009 season to resume contract talks.

The Panthers likely would have to make Peppers the highest paid defensive player and top the deals signed this offseason by Oakland cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha (three years, $45.3 million) and Washington defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth (a seven-year deal that is widely viewed as a four-year, $48 million contract).

The offer sheet Peppers signed could be worth up to $19.183 million next season.

It includes a $16.683 million guaranteed base salary – the amount he’s currently counting against the team’s salary cap – plus incentives that carry over from his previous contract of $1.5 million for making the Pro Bowl and $250,000 for every playoff win up to and including the Super Bowl.

If the Panthers don’t sign Peppers to an extension, they would be faced with having to franchise him again next February and having to pay him more than $20 million by franchising him again.

Last January, Peppers said he no longer wanted to play for the team. But the Panthers blocked him from becoming an unrestricted free agent by franchising him. His hope to getting traded after that never materialized.

The fact that Peppers remained with the team after months of controversy and speculation was not a surprise to general manager Marty Hurney.

“We always go by actions,” Hurney said in a conference call. “We’ve known Julius for seven years and he’s been the same guy for seven years. He’s a valuable, important player for us and we haven’t seen a change in that.”

Hurney said he didn’t expect having Peppers signed would lead to a trade. He also said there were no contingencies in the contract prohibiting the Panthers from franchising Peppers again in 2010.

It’s uncertain what affect Peppers’ earlier declaration of wanting to play elsewhere will have on team morale. Several players said during offseason training this month they respected Peppers’ right to look around and he’d be welcomed back if he signed his tender.

The Observer’s attempts to reach several Panthers players for reaction to Peppers’ signing were unsuccessful.

Peppers signing “shows he’s happy and comfortable to be here,” said Hurney. “He is a very competitive, prideful person that has always, through his actions, shown that he likes being a Carolina Panther and likes his teammates.”