Panthers GM: No changes with Peppers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers general manager Marty Hurney remains confident defensive end Julius Peppers will return to the team next season, even as he's made public his wishes to play elsewhere.

In a pre-draft interview with reporters Thursday, Hurney said there were no new developments in the stalemate with their four-time Pro Bowl pick. The Panthers placed the franchise tag on Peppers. He has not signed the one-year tender for $16.7 million, however, and has said he won't sign a long-term deal with Carolina.

If a trade is not worked out, Hurney said he doesn't believe Peppers would hold out of training camp.

"We've known Julius for seven years, and it has been a good seven years," Hurney said. "I think he knows how we feel, and we feel like he's been happy here. And again, nothing has changed. We franchised him, and when we did we knew there was a period for the process to take place. When that process goes through then he's going to be back."

Under the non-exclusive franchise tag, another team could sign Peppers only by giving Carolina two first-round draft picks. The Panthers could trade him for less than that, but because he has not signed his tender, only agent Carl Carey can negotiate with other teams.

Carey did not immediately return a message seeking comment. Hurney said he hasn't been approached by Carey with a trade offer.

Peppers, who had a career-high 14½ sacks last season, is causing the Panthers other offseason headaches, too. Even though he hasn't signed the contract, the $16.7 million counts against Carolina's salary cap.

It's meant the Panthers have not been able to sign any free agents after they re-signed left tackle Jordan Gross. They've lost several backups to other teams and cut starting cornerback Ken Lucas and receiver D.J. Hackett to clear cap space.

"If you look, there are a lot of teams that I regard as successful organizations, and successful teams that have followed the same approach and aren't very active in free agency," Hurney said. "We've kept our nucleus together. We have a lot of starters back from last year. We have some young players who I think can help our depth.

"We feel good about the makeup of the team. We hope to help ourselves in the draft next Saturday."

The Panthers don't have a first-round pick in the draft thanks to last year's trade that netted starting right tackle Jeff Otah. That could change if a trade is worked out for Peppers.

But Hurney insisted that's not a priority.

"When we franchised Julius we did so with the intention of having him back," Hurney said, "and that's where it stands."