The Carolina Panthers' Jordan Gross To Sign Up and Julius Peppers to Sign Out

Rick WeaverCorrespondent IFebruary 18, 2009

With free agency rapidly approaching the Carolina Panthers have found themselves "over a barrel" by not having Jordan Gross already signed to a new contract and not having their, weapon of last resort, the "franchise tag," placed on Julius Pepper.

Peppers seemed to feel his team, of seven years, should focus all of their efforts and their all important "franchise tag" on Jordan Gross and not him. That would be a senseless move for any team to make in this situation.  A franchise cannot just let a first round draft pick simply walk away.

Peppers' career with the Panthers has been very successful, for the most part. However, Peppers' having only 2.5 sacks in 2007, while the Panthers paid him more than virtually any other player did not help Peppers' case.  Couple Peppers multi-million dollar contract and his lack of production in 2007 along with his occasional taking plays "off" and his seemingly carefree attitude while losing a close game all had a way of irritating many Panthers' fans and left many others wondering if the mult-imillion dollar salary and the restrictions that salary placed on the team were actually really worth all of the trouble.

Even though Peppers' carefree demeanor was generally taken out of context, the smiles and laughs Peppers displayed on the sidelines just did not sit well with many Panthers fans.  To many fans, having their team lose was no laughing matter.  It just seemed like the wrong thing for a star player to do. With that said I will not question Peppers' desire to win. I feel Peppers wants to win as much or more than 52 other guys on his team and his career numbers prove it. But the way he deals with adversity may just be to laugh it off, but many fans will never understand that and will always take it as an "I don't care" attitude.  I have heard fans say, more times than I can remember, "I would be laughing and smiling too if I was making almost a milion dollars per game just for playing football each week, even if I was losing!"  

Now, Peppers did bounce back in 2008, posting a career high 14.5 sacks. Last season's output would surely be the platform from which Peppers will base his negotiations for his future contract this year.

This current dilemma may get nasty as the Panthers will have their hand forced, one way or the other. Though Peppers may not want any part of the franchise tag, he is going to get it.

Peppers may well start dictating the teams he would be interested in going to and Peppers could threaten to sit out if the Panthers did not oblige him. Those are the occasional reactions a player goes though when contract talks fall apart or when a player wants out of a city but is controlled by the team.

Now, head coach John Fox and general manager Marty Hurney may have been born at night, but trust me, they were not born last night. I am sure Peppers' coming demands will bother them, but they will not fold to them.

I cannot see the Panthers' "brass" just allowing Peppers to play for any NFC team and even moreover, I cannot see any situation where he would be allowed to play for an NFC South opponent.

Peppers landing spot will most certainly have to be in the AFC. The Panthers' position in the Peppers deal will be finding a team with the best drafts available who are wanting to enter the Julius Peppers contest.

Peppers may well threaten to veto many of the Panthers' possible trade deals, he will do so at his own peril. Peppers would effectively be giving up, what is viewed by most who know physiology, as the best potential year of his career.

A typical male athlete will reach their peak production between the ages of 28-30. Following 30 years of age, production usually has a pretty sharp angle of decline. Would Peppers waste the prime season of career going forward, just to prove a point?

I cannot see it. Peppers has accumulated numbers that have him on an NFL Hall of Fame pace and a one year vacation during his "peak" prime would put a dent in a future bid as a hall of famer.

With the combine already here and and the draft right down the road, the Carolina Panthers have no first round draft pick, no superstar defensive end and they also have an All-Pro offensive lineman who now has the keys to the franchise's future in his hip pocket.

That is not exactly how the Carolina Panthers felt the 2009 offseason would start off but that is how things have turned out.

The rather precarious situation the Panthers find themselves in can be directly attributed to a surprise announcement by Julius Peppers.

Peppers let his desires be known in a series of comments, following the Panthers embarrassing loss to the Superbowl losing Arizona Cardinals.

When Julius Peppers and his agent, Carl Carey, let it be known that Peppers wanted out of Carolina the whole dynamic revolving around the team was turned upside down in a flash.

Every single offseason need the Panthers had planned for had to be shelved until the team could get their situation worked out.

With the Carolina Panthers buffeting the outer limits of the NFL's salary cap, it was was already going to be very difficult to get potential free agents, Jordan Gross and Julius Peppers signed before the franchise "tag" designation time deadline arrives.

With Peppers' announcement, that he no longer wanted to play in Carolina, coming out while star tackle, Jordan Gross and the Panthers were in the midst of an intense contract negotiation, suddenly had huge implications regarding the Panthers' ability to sign players and operate successfully as a team that needing to make multiple changes during the 2009 offseason.

The announcement altered the teams ability to re-sign current free agents and even squelched the teams possible thoughts of making a move towards the addition of another quarterback. in other words, everything had to be put on hold.

The ironic thing this is that Peppers said he did not want to "cripple" his team of seven years. However, his move has the ability to be one of the most destructive blows he could possibly use against his team.

If Peppers could have done anything for any of his teammates or given them any gifts, on his way out of town, there is no way it could have been bigger than what his statement did for Jordan Gross.

Gross, who is arguably the best tackle who could become a free agent in 10 days, was handed the defacto, "keys to the Panthers' safe" when Peppers made his sentiments public.

More specifically, Peppers' announcement meant Gross did not have to fear having playing under the "franchise tag" for another season and again, it gave Gross a position of power in his negotiations with the Panthers.

The Panthers had worked hard to re-sign a long term deal with Gross, since the 2008 offseason. The team had worked just as hard to get a long term deal worked out with Peppers. But those contract negotiations hit a dead end as Peppers did not respond to the offer that was given to him at the beginning of the 2008 season.

The contract the Panthers reportedly offered Peppers would have made him the highest paid defensive player in the history of the NFL. The Panthers knew the franchise tag was there if they could not get both deals worked out.

However, using the tag on Peppers would have costs the team $17 million and they were prepared to use it if they had to.

Now the Panthers are handcuffed and are "on the clock." Everything, and I do mean everything revolves around what Jordan Gross decides to do.

Sources close to the Panthers said the sides are close to an agreement, "being closer than they have been in a year." In a conversation Tuesday with a former teammate of both Gross and Peppers, I was told the Gross deal should be wrapped up by late in the afternoon on Wedensday.

The whole Gross and Peppers contract ordeal could either work out quite well for the Panthers or the whole thing could be a complete disaster, that could set the Panthers back for years.

When Peppers made his desires known he seemed to think the team might possibly release him so he could pursue playing for another team. But Peppers, more than anyone has to know just how much of a business professional football is. Peppers trade value, once the franchise tag is placed on him, becomes enormous.

The Panthers, who have no first round draft picks this year, could possibly get two first round picks or any combination of a first round pick, plus a second round, and third round pick or any combination of a first round pick and either one, two or three later round picks depending on what the current market is for Peppers' services and just what type of draft picks the interested teams happen to have.

Things look as if they will actually play out pretty well for all involved, especially for Gross who can now force the Panthers to step up and agree to the contract terms he wants before this Thursday's franchise tag deadline or have the team risk losing either himself or Peppers and lose any chance for any compensation for the player not franchised.

If this situation was a "Texas hold'em" game, Peppers would be "all-in" as would the Panthers be, but Gross is sitting back, watching the clock, and is either bluffing or just trying to get everyone at the table "all-in" before he calls and lays down his royal flush.

Speaking of Texas, watch the Dallas Cowboys to see just how much the glimmer of a new, billion dollar, stadium and a team full of under achieving former Pro Bowlers seem to play on Peppers' decision to pick a team with a 3-4 defense.

If a deal is not worked out by late Thursday, the Panthers could franchise Peppers, trade him and get two top draft picks and simply let Gross go play for another team. Though this is very unlikely, one has to remember, the Panthers already have a starting tackle, Travelle Wharton, who is currently playing in the guard's position yet is being compensated as a tackle.

The Panthers also have two back-up guards and another tackle who are all capable being starters for most teams in the league. The draft picks gained from Peppers could then be used to acquire a top rated defensive free agent or used to build the defense using the newly acquired draft picks.

The other option for the Panthers, if Gross did not come to terms with them in time, could also wind up with the franchise tag being placed on himself, thus letting Julius Peppers have his way and sign anywhere he wants and give the Panthers nothing in return.

It is highly unlikely the Gross deal will not be worked out in the next 24 hours and Peppers franchised with trading partners lining up on Moorehead Street in Charlotte, with draft picks in their hand.

Until this whole contract debacle is settled all of the speculation as to what the Panthers might do in draft or free agency have become a topic that is still soon to comment on. The glaring need, will of course be at defensive end position, the interior defensive line, the cornerback's slot and a proven, "number two" wide receiver.


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