Peppers signs $16.7M Panthers tender

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- With one signature, Julius Peppers went from a disgruntled star seeking to leave town to a rich man who may stick around in Carolina for awhile.

Peppers signed his one-year, $16.7 million tender with the Carolina Panthers on Wednesday, five months after the four-time Pro Bowl selection first announced he wanted to play elsewhere next season.

And while the move means Peppers won't hold out of training camp, agent Carl Carey indicated late Wednesday that Peppers is happy with his lucrative one-year deal and is no longer opposed to discussing a long-term deal with the Panthers.

"Recently, I've had positive and productive discussions with the organization," Peppers said in a statement released by Carey. "I am optimistic and focused as I look forward to the upcoming NFL season."

Shortly after the Panthers were eliminated in the playoffs in January, Peppers said he was "maxed out" in Carolina and wanted to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense.

The franchise's all-time sacks leader insisted he would never sign a long-term contract with the Panthers and pleaded for them to not place the restrictive franchise tag on him. The Panthers did it anyway. It meant the Panthers had to give him a contract that would pay him more than $1 million a game, but another team couldn't sign him unless it gave Carolina two first-round draft picks in return.

Peppers refused to sign the tender or attend offseason minicamps and optional workouts. While Carey said they received some interest from other teams, no deal was struck.

Peppers, who had been working out in Arizona, decided to sign with Carolina when he realized he had few other options. Before that, Carey said Peppers had discussions with the Panthers that softened his stance on his future with the team. The 29-year-old Peppers turned down a long-term contract before the start of last season.

"Julius is more than satisfied with the outcome and is looking forward instead of backward," Carey said. "He is motivated. he's prepared and he's ready to play football."

Carey said the Panthers made no promise that they won't place the franchise tag on him again next season -- which would cost Carolina about $20 million. General manager Marty Hurney said signing the tender does not mean they'll now try to trade Peppers. Only Carey, not the Panthers, could negotiate with other teams while Peppers remained unsigned.

"I've said it a number of times, we want Julius Peppers here," Hurney said. "This one-year contract was signed with the intention of him coming to training camp on Aug. 2 with the Carolina Panthers."

On top of the $16.7 million in guaranteed money, Peppers could earn another $1.5 million if he makes the Pro Bowl and $250,000 for each playoff win, giving him one of the highest single-season contracts in NFL history.

It will go to a player who has been criticized for not playing hard on every down and disappearing for large stretches. Yet Hurney insists the Panthers have no worries that Peppers will not give his all despite his public pleas to play elsewhere.

"You go by actions. Julius has been the same guy for seven years, the same valuable, important player to us," Hurney said. "We haven't seen a change in that.

"He's a very competitive, prideful person that has always through his actions said that he likes being a Carolina Panther, he likes his teammates, and there's no reason to see a change in that. That's not a concern at all."

Peppers' contract has taken up so much salary-cap space that the Panthers did not sign one free agent from another team this offseason. They also cut several veterans and didn't have enough room to re-sign veteran long-snapper Jason Kyle.

"We've been carrying this number all season, so it doesn't change," Hurney said.

The 6-foot-7 freakishly athletic Peppers, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2002 draft, had a career-high 14½ sacks last season as Carolina went 12-4. That came after a miserable 2007 season when he was held to 2½ sacks and the Panthers failed to reach the playoffs.

After missing all offseason workouts, he'll have to catch up on new defensive coordinator Ron Meeks' system, designed to take advantage of Peppers' speed and athleticism. Coach John Fox said earlier this month that Peppers will catch up quickly.

"Obviously we're excited," Hurney said. "and I think Julius is excited."