Panthers right a wrong by bringing Julius Peppers home to finish career

Julius Peppers never should have had to leave the Carolinas. Now he is back. Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Who says you can’t come home again?

The Carolina Panthers on Friday reached an agreement that will allow defensive end Julius Peppers to return to his home state and the team that made him the second overall pick of the 2002 draft.

Carolina’s all-time leading sack leader (81) now has a chance to retire as a member of the organization he called home for his first eight NFL seasons before leaving for Chicago and then Green Bay.

Terms: One year, $3.5 million with $750,000 available in incentives.

Grade A: At 37, Peppers still appears to have something left in the tank. He had 7.5 sacks last season, playing outside linebacker for the Green Bay Packers. That would have ranked second on the Panthers behind end Mario Addison, who had 9.5. Peppers now will join an end rotation of Addison, Charles Johnson, Kony Ealy and Wes Horton. At 6-foot-6, 283 pounds, he has the size to be an every-down end opposite Johnson. He also could slide inside and play tackle if need be, which means he could be a part of a four-man rotation there with Star Lotulelei, Kawann Short and Vernon Butler. This is a win for Peppers and a win for the organization. No-brainer.

What it means: This means the Panthers have righted a wrong. They should have paid Peppers after the 2009 season and allowed him to play out his career in the Carolinas, where he had played for his entire life to that point, from high school through the NFL. But after using the franchise tag on Peppers in 2008 and 2009 and not getting a long-term deal done before either of those seasons, former general manager Marty Hurney let Peppers walk. Peppers told the Chicago Tribune at the time that he was “open to staying both times." But, he added, “For whatever reason, they didn’t get in contact with us. They didn’t even say anything." Peppers didn’t have any baggage with current general manager Dave Gettleman, so coming home wasn’t a hard decision.

What’s the risk: Peppers is 37. You never know when a player will hit the proverbial wall, but Peppers has nine straight seasons of collecting at least seven sacks. Consistency has been his trademark, and injuries haven’t been a factor. He’s played in 16 games every year since his rookie season, when he played 12. So the risk seems minimal, and the emotional lift teammates and fans will get from having a fan favorite back in the fold should outweigh the risks. Johnson was so excited about the prospect of having Peppers back that he said earlier in the week he’d help recruit him, saying he was “all in" on a return.