Not that former Carolina Panthers coach John Fox needed any more convincing, but Julius Peppers’ 6.5 sacks through six games this season and his production in the twilight of his career are reminders that Fox would have liked another year with the future Hall of Famer.
The Panthers selected Peppers with the No. 2 overall pick in 2002, shortly after Fox succeeded George Seifert, and Fox watched the athletic defensive end collect 10 or more sacks in six of his eight seasons during his first stint with Carolina.
But after the Panthers and Peppers couldn’t agree on a long-term deal – they were $6 million apart after GM Marty Hurney offered to make Peppers the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player – Peppers played under the franchise tag in 2009 and then signed a free agent deal with Chicago the following offseason.
Peppers was part of a mass exodus of veterans before the Panthers went 2-14 in Fox’s lame-duck season of 2010. But it’s Peppers’ departure that still gnaws at Fox, whose Bears will host the Panthers on Sunday at Soldier Field.
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“Anytime you have the second player in the draft and he walks for nothing, I don’t think that’s ideal if you’re asking my thoughts,” Fox said. “That was above my pay grade.”
Asked about the reported $6 million that kept Peppers from re-signing with the Panthers, Fox said: “I don’t write those checks. I just know I really liked the player. And he’s proven pretty worthy since.”
Fox, 62, in his third season with the Bears, remains the winningest coach in Panthers’ history with a 73-71 record in nine seasons. He still has lots of ties to the organization and to Charlotte, where he recently pulled his Quail Hollow mansion (last listed at $6 million) off the market.
Fox said two of his sons still live in Charlotte and his wife, Robin, is in town this week following a wedding in Charleston.
“She’s spying on you guys,” Fox joked during a teleconference Wednesday with Charlotte reporters.
Fox said he called Hurney in August after he was named interim general manager, and he’s kept up with Peppers, linebacker Thomas Davis and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn – all of whom were with the Panthers during his tenure.
“There’s no doubt there’s some familiar faces,” Fox said, “and I look forward to seeing some of those guys.”