There was a lot of online hand-wringing among Carolina Panthers fans during the 48-hour legal tampering period Monday and Tuesday as folks waited for general manager Marty Hurney to join the party.
While the Jacksonville Jaguars (as they always do) and the Green Bay Packers (as they never do) made splashes with big-name, high-dollar signings, Hurney finally waded into the talent pool with the astute pickup of Bashaud Breeland (more on the former Clemson corner later).
But Hurney still has a big fish he can reel in … simply by convincing defensive end Julius Peppers to play a 17th NFL season.
Actually, that’s not so simple.
Peppers turned 38 in January and is recovering from labrum surgery on his right shoulder. He also has a home and family in Miami, and they probably get tougher to leave every year.
But the Panthers are optimistic that Peppers will play one more season. And the feeling here is something could happen quickly, considering free agency – which feels like it’s been going on for a month – begins officially at 4 p.m. Wednesday.
Getting Peppers back should be treated like the Panthers landing an impact free agent.
Forget the Hall of Fame numbers for a minute and focus just on what Peppers did last season – 11 sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries.
With an injured shoulder.
The Panthers’ 2018 season already has the feel of an aging rocker’s farewell tour, with linebacker Thomas Davis and center Ryan Kalil saying it will be their final year.
Might as well throw Peppers into the mix and get the band back together for one last go-round, with scheduled stops in Atlanta, New Orleans, Tampa, D.C. and several Rust Belt cities.
Eric Washington certainly is all for it.
The first-year defensive coordinator was Peppers’ position coach last year, when the Panthers went out of their way to accommodate Peppers with a healthy dose of veteran’s days off. And while there is a greater risk of pulled hamstrings and tweaked groins with older players, Peppers again would be trusted to set his own practice schedule.
The Panthers could still stand to add a more youthful edge rusher to go with Mario Addison and Co. after cutting Charles Johnson, who tweeted Tuesday that he will be taking his talents to the YMCA flag football league to coach his son’s team.
Peppers brings a certain heft and swagger to a locker room that only a guy with 154.5 career sacks can.
During one of Peppers’ first appearances at Bank of America Stadium after returning to the Panthers last offseason, middle linebacker Luke Kuechly even got a little starstruck. Kuechly, who has Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year awards on his mantle, said he was like: “That’s Julius Peppers.”
A new crew
Peppers would be re-joining a defense that has a stronger set of corners than it did a season ago (the safeties are still pending).
Breeland was a four-year starter in Washington and is a guy who gets his hands on a lot of passes.
In targeting Breeland on the heels of last week’s trade with Philadelphia, Hurney essentially determined that Breeland and wideout Torrey Smith offered more upside and value than the combination of Daryl Worley and Marqise Lee/Allen Robinson/Sammy Watkins.
And Hurney may still not be done remaking the receiving room.
He also has holes to fill at safety, defensive tackle, tight end and guard/center, some of which the Panthers figure to address in coming days.
But the biggest signing would be the guy who fills up the room with his 6-7 frame and can fill up a stat sheet.
Hurney drafted Peppers in the first round in 2002 and tried to make him the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player in 2009. That didn’t pan out.
But getting Peppers’ signature on one more contract would be big for Hurney, not to mention Ron Rivera, Kuechly, Washington, Davis, the team’s next owner – and all those hand-wringers on Twitter.