Carolina Panthers veteran defensive end Julius Peppers has played the equivalent of an extra season of playoff games during his Hall of Fame career.
And it was his next postseason game against the New Orleans Saints that Peppers wanted to talk about Thursday, rather than his future with the Panthers.
“It’ll be a time to think about that. It’ll be a period of reflection at some point. Right now the focus is on the game this Sunday,” Peppers said. “I’m not really looking past this week as far as future plans.”
Peppers, 37, signed a one-year deal worth $3.5 million to return to the team that drafted him in the first round in 2002. Peppers has given the Panthers exactly what they were looking for – a feared edge-rusher who would add punch to the pass rush.
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Peppers is tied with Mario Addison for the team lead with 11 sacks. Peppers collected an extra $750,000 in incentives by reaching that 11-sack total.
Asked what Peppers has meant to the locker room, defensive tackle Kawann Short said: “Peppers is the locker room, man. Everybody wants to do what he’s done around here, if not longer. He set the standard and everybody is trying to chase that greatness.”
The Panthers have closely monitored Peppers’ workload to keep him fresh. He hasn’t practiced much during the past several weeks, and he said Thursday he feels fresh entering Sunday’s game at New Orleans.
The wild-card game will be Peppers’ 19th playoff game, tying him for fifth among active players. Panthers coach Ron Rivera hopes this playoff run – however it long lasts – is not the end of the line for the 16-year veteran.
“I’d love for him to come back. Absolutely,” Rivera said. “I know we’ve managed (him) and we’ll do whatever we need to. But it’s all up to him. He’s having a very good year. Who knows? Hopefully we can keep it rolling.”