NFL: Peppers may not be able to earn more than Panthers’ offer
By Charles Chandler
INDIANAPOLIS — There was plenty of Julius Peppers buzz Friday at the NFL Scouting Combine.
A former general manager questioned whether Carolina’s defensive end would receive a free-agent contract as lucrative as what the Panthers offered last year.
Two coaches whose teams need pass-rushing help were tight-lipped about whether their clubs would pursue him.
And a former coach whose team made the late, great Reggie White the league’s first mega-free agent signee 17 years ago discussed whether Peppers could have a similar impact on his new team as White, also a defensive end, had on Green Bay after he left Philadelphia.
“As great a player as Julius is, I’d be reluctant to compare anybody to Reggie White,” said Mike Holmgren, the former Packers coach who’s beginning his first year as the Cleveland Browns’ team president.
White helped the Packers to a Super Bowl title on his way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Holmgren made it clear, however, that he’s thought about entering the Peppers’ sweepstakes, while acknowledging concerns about the cost.
“When we talk about possible free agents, certainly Julius is one of the guys we talk about,” said Holmgren. “Then I have to put on my other hat because there are some financial ramifications there.”
While Peppers is expected to strike a huge deal, former Houston and Washington general manager Charley Casserly said he might not be able to beat what the Panthers offered last summer.
“I don’t know what Carolina’s final numbers were, but Carolina has never been cheap with players,” said Casserly, who now works as an analyst for the NFL Network and CBS Sports. “They’ve always paid the market (value) and maybe a little bit above to make sure it gets done.
“It’ll be fascinating to watch because maybe the best deal he would’ve had would’ve been the one he had a year ago.”
Peppers will hit the market March 5, when the free-agent signing period opens. Carolina allowed him to go free, choosing not to apply its franchise tag to him, which would have required it to make him a one-year tender offer of more than $20 million.
Last summer, after Peppers had a private meeting with team owner Jerry Richardson, the Panthers are believed to have offered a multi-year contract averaging between $13 million and $14 million annually. But the offer fell short of Peppers’ request to be the league’s highest-paid defensive player.
“Whether Peppers wanted $15 million a year, which was certainly more than anybody else was making of the people who signed long-term deals ... if that’s what he wanted and he didn’t get it, I’m not sure he’s going to get it now,” Casserly said.
Peppers’ agent, Carl Carey, had little to say about Casserly’s comments.
“As we have said before, entering free agency was a career decision and not a financial decision for Julius,” said Carey. “We are sure Panther fans would rather discuss players on the current roster.”
Casserly said he doesn’t expect a large number of teams to try to sign Peppers, much as was the case last year when Tampa Bay and Washington were the primary suitors for defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, who wound up with the Redskins.
Casserly said Peppers’ age (30) and sometimes up-and-down play could make teams hesitate to strike a big deal.
“You’re going to hold your breath a little bit on this one,” said Casserly. “But I think he is going to get a heck of a contract and he clearly is the No.?1 guy out there.”
Among teams said to be most interested in Peppers are Philadelphia and Chicago, and possibly New England.
Bears coach Lovie Smith kept a stern face when asked Friday if his team would pursue Peppers.
“Is he available?” Smith said. “If there’s a player available, and when they do become available, we’re going to look at all of them.”
Chicago linebacker Brian Urlacher has publicly endorsed a move to sign Peppers.
“Brian Urlacher wants to go to Dallas (next February) and win the Super Bowl,” said Smith. “Like all players, they would like to get as many good players on their team with them as possible.”
Atlanta coach Mike Smith wouldn’t discuss Peppers after saying improving the pass rush was one of his team’s primary offseason goals.
Peppers is Carolina’s all-time sacks leader with 81. He’s a five-time Pro Bowler who recently was named to the NFL’s all-decade team.
However, the Falcons coach didn’t hesitate to say he wouldn’t miss facing Peppers twice a year as an NFC South opponent.
“Having Julius Peppers out of the NFC South would be a good thing,” said Mike Smith.
“He has been an outstanding player for a number of years. He’s a guy you always have to be aware of where he is aligned and you always have to scheme to protect your quarterback.”