CHARLOTTE, N.C. – After spending his entire life in North Carolina, Julius Peppers wants out.
The four-time Pro Bowl defensive end has decided he won’t sign a long-term deal with the Carolina Panthers when he becomes an unrestricted free agent on Feb. 26.
Peppers, who grew up in tiny Bailey, N.C., starred in college at North Carolina and was the Panthers’ first-round pick in 2002, believes Carolina’s defensive system is not for him – even after recording a career-high 14 1/2 sacks this season.
“He loves the state of North Carolina. His family is there. The easier situation for him would be to stay in Carolina,” his agent, Carl Carey, said Saturday. “But the decision that he faced was, do I stay in Carolina and perhaps never reach my full potential? Or do I open myself to the possibilities to finish my career elsewhere? He chose the latter.”
Carey, who first told ESPN.com of Peppers’ decision early Saturday, said Peppers wants to play in a 3-4 defense. The Panthers use a 4-3 alignment.
Peppers’ decision leaves the Panthers with a big decision to make. The team could place the franchise tag on Peppers, which would nearly force him to stay with the Panthers. Under that scenario, another team could sign Peppers only by giving Carolina two first-round draft picks in return.
But doing that would mean the Panthers would have to give Peppers a one-year deal worth a whopping $16.7 million, and Peppers could also decide to hold out.
The Panthers have been trying to sign Peppers to an extension for the past two years. But Peppers, in a statement released by Carey, said he wants to go elsewhere.
“I am seeking new challenges that will allow me to grow, develop and reach my personal potential on the football field,” Peppers said.
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