As the prodigal son Julius Peppers returns home at age 37, let us pause for a second to remember when and how he left.
It would have cost Carolina only an additional $6 million over a four-year contract to have kept him around, Peppers said during an exclusive interview with the Observer’s Charles Chandler in March 2010.
Instead, Peppers bolted for Chicago – and then, in 2014, to Green Bay. Now he will come back to Charlotte, seven years after his original departure. Peppers returns to the place where he started his NFL career in 2002 as the No. 2 overall pick out of North Carolina, played until 2009 and still holds the team’s all-time sacks record with 81.
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The Panthers tried to make Peppers the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL – twice! – during contract negotiations in the mid-to-late 2000s with then-general manager Marty Hurney. But Peppers said in the Observer interview after signing with Chicago that in the summer of 2009 the two sides were ultimately split by only $6 million.
Julius Peppers said that he believed Carolina could have and should have come up with that final $6 million in the summer of 2009 if it had really, really wanted him.
Peppers said then – shortly after he signed with Chicago, in a 29-minute exclusive interview with Chandler – that he had wanted a four-year, $60 million deal then and that Carolina was offering four years and $54 million.
Peppers said in the 2010 interview that he believed Carolina could have and should have come up with that final $6 million in the summer of 2009 if it had really, really wanted him.
“My feeling is they could have done that,” Peppers said in that 2010 interview. “If they wanted me to stay, it wouldn’t have been that big of a deal.”
Carolina used its franchise tag on Peppers for the 2009 season instead, paying him slightly more than $16 million for that one season – or a bit more than $1 million per game. The Panthers declined to use that franchise tag on Peppers for the second straight year in 2010, when they would have had to pay him more than $20 million to do so. They let him leave instead as an unrestricted free agent.
Julius Peppers has said several times that his departure from Carolina struck a “sour” note, and no one would argue with that.
Peppers has said several times that his departure struck a “sour” note, and no one would argue with that. His relationship with owner Jerry Richardson has apparently always been good. But in the 2010 interview, he said of the Panthers: “Things could’ve ended on a better note than they did if everybody would’ve just been straight up and kept it professional.”
My belief at the time and now was that Peppers was ready to get out of Charlotte for awhile. He was the rare player who had gone to both high school and college in the same state where he became a star NFL player. He was a big, big deal, and blending into the woodwork like he often wanted to off the field was not an option.
Introverted by nature, Peppers was happy to go to a place (two places, actually, in Chicago and then Green Bay) where the team had a much more decorated legacy and he did not have to shoulder as much of the attention.
But people change. And Julius Frazier Peppers – named for boxer Joe Frazier and NBA star Julius Erving, and as athletic as either one of them – is coming back.