"I'm thankful for everything they've done for me and I don't want to leave them crippled or in a bad situation, and I don't want to do that to myself, either" is just how Julius Peppers left it with the media in Charlotte, just one day after the Panthers were taken to the woodshed by the Arizona Cardinals.
The translation—"thanks for the ride, thanks for the good times, and I hope you can get a fair trade for me, but I now want to become the highest paid defender alive...for another team if needed and in a new city. I need one that is possibly just a little bigger and can maybe even show a player a little more love."
It sounds selfish—I know...but why? Why would Peppers really want out of Carolina?
If Peppers just wanted to leave to go play for a team that would be a better contender for a Super bowl title than Carolina is (that is what I think a small part of this is), then Peppers needs to remember he was just two wins away from the 43rd Super bowl just one week ago.
Had the Panthers possibly been the Wild Card team and continued playing good football, on a streak, instead of getting the time-off that comes with a bye week, they may have been able to pull out the win against Arizona.
The bye week seemed to have slowed the Panthers. The same thing happened after the regular season bye as the Panthers struggled with timing issues when they back from their week off.
If quarterback Jake Delhomme had not had the single worst game of his career, the Panthers could possibly have won that game. With that said, if Carolina had won the Arizona game, advanced, and they were now preparing to meet the Eagles
for the NFC Championship this weekend, things may have been different with Peppers. But that was not to be and probably would not have that much difference.
I just cannot accept that the only reasons that Peppers wants out of Charlotte is for more money and the chance to play for a better team. How much more money does a fellow need? Is playing for a team that employs a 3-4 defense all that critical for Peppers to be a part of? Will that help him get to the Hall of Fame any quicker? Most ex-players will tell you that next to the Hall of Fame that a Superbowl ring was the most coveted thing that was in their sport.
How many teams finished better than 12-4 last season? How many teams came within two wins of making it to their second Super bowl in five years, even though they were playing with a challenged defensive line and a suspect defensive secondary?
The Panthers, at certain times, were about as good as it got last season. Their run game was excellent, their passing attack seemed to be getting back on track following Delhomme's absence (until the last game), and early on the Panther defense played well.
Personally, I really thought the Panthers were over achievers this season. They had some very young players and a few rookies in some key positions and for the most part, they did not disappoint. I felt as if this coming offseason would be the time for Carolina to try and re-tool their defense as they had done for their offense last season.
The Panthers need new talent on the defensive line and they have a serious need for a "lock down" corner to play opposite of Chris Gamble in order to get their defense back to a top five or at least a top ten caliber squad. At that defensive level, they could truly vie for the Lombardi Trophy.
Remember the four teams who are playing this weekend to see who goes to the Super bowl? Three of those four teams play a level of defense that most teams can only dream about.
With the defensive changes probably coming in just a few months and if Delhomme's arm gets even better this offseason, I feel the Panthers may well be a contender again next season. Maybe Peppers and his agent saw things differently. Peppers was very possibly tired of Charlotte, NC.
Face it, after spending time in Chapel Hill playing both Tar Heel football and basketball, Peppers found the large "college town" to be closing in on him during his last season there.
Peppers had communicated with the press and with potential agents, for some time, through his guidance counselor, tutor, and academic adviser. Peppers wanted to stay above the fray at all costs and even asked his tutor to represent him in contract talks following the NFL
That may be sort of a similar thing that is going on now. Peppers has friends all over the nation and spends a lot of time in the Houston
area among other places.
He has trained in multiple locations during the offseason and has no unbreakable ties to the Charlotte area. He has made it clear that he does not necessarily "live" in Charlotte.
After last season, Peppers took a beating in the press and it got even worse on local sports talk radio stations. Some thought he possibly had some serious health concerns impacting his game. Others openly questioned Peppers' heart, desire, and will to win.
Well, one can theorize that it does not take too much repetitive criticism, hounding by the media, small market fans chasing you, and having no real chance for privacy to make a person want to be in a bigger city.
Seriously, if you ever go to a Panthers' home game and hear the pre-game player introductions, you will find there is only one player who drives the stadium into a fervor when his name is called.
One reason is No. 90 was a Tarheel and is seen as one of North Carolina's own. The other reason is those same fans who criticize Peppers also remember all of his amazing plays with the Panthers. They are still looking forward to the ones he will be a part of in the future.
As of right now, there seems to be no future for Peppers in Charlotte. This whole thing really starting to look planned.
Peppers had an offer from the Panthers and never had his agent make a counter offer. He would never really address the issue in the press until just recently and his response resembled an encrypted message.
Finally, the timing of this news also looks suspect. It was a week after the season was over, on a weekend, when no one is around, and when most coaches and their staffs had taken a short vacation break.
Well, for whatever reason, Peppers has probably played his last game as a Panther. He sure was amazing to watch.
To see him drop in man coverage against the league's top wide receivers or to sit back and watch him just totally flatten Jay Cutler
as he tried to run out of bounds was truly amazing. The Cutler tackle seemed to change the entire game and give Carolina the much needed win over Denver
Those are only a few of the many things that this special athlete did while wearing Panther blue and teal. It is almost a shame it has to end this way.
Peppers is truly one of the only players around who could probably play almost every position on the field—rushing a passer, run stop, and covering receivers. That is a rarity.
When a team gets such a talented player, they need to do everything possible to keep that player. Just ask the Kansas City Chiefs
how things are this season without Jared Allen. If it's any indication, I think Carl Peterson was fired.