Julius Peppers has held the Panthers hostage this offseason.
Once the face of the franchise, the disgruntled North Carolina product has decided he's tired of the team and his position. His demands for a new position and new team (but not just any team) have hampered the Panthers' ability to move him and have led the team into a standoff.
Now that the draft has come and gone, it's become known that the Panthers didn't even receive offers for Peppers. That's led the Panthers into a corner. They're on the hook for $14 million and change to a player that's in a city he doesn't want to be in, in a system he doesn't like, at a position he doesn't want to play anymore.
They're holding out for a trade that isn't likely to happen and legally can't happen until Peppers signs his franchise tender, which he hasn't shown any inclination of doing. So what?
Simple. Just remove the franchise tag.
To begin with, many people feel that Julius Peppers is an invaluable asset and a top talent in the league. This is simply false.
Defenders will point to his 14.5 sacks in 2008, the highest of his career. I'd respond by pointing to his 2.5 sacks in 2007 and mention 2008 was a contract year.
Julius doesn't exist in a vacuum. His value will not be determined simply by what a team is willing to give up for him, but by how he performs compared to the rest of the league. Is Peppers worth more than a Jared Allen? Osi Umenyiora? Justin Tuck? Mario Williams?
The most glaring position of need right now for the Carolina Panthers is at defensive tackle. After Damione Lewis and Maake Kemoeatu, there might as well not be anyone else on the depth chart.
Letting Julius walk would allow the Panthers to sign Dwayne Robertson, who'd immediately add much-needed depth and experience. The most intriguing thing about Robertson is that he was drafted fourth overall in 2004, and there's already one DT reclamation project on the line who has served the team very well.
Another possibility is the anti-climactic one: Peppers could re-sign. There's no telling how many people (agent, friends, family) he has in his ear right now influencing him. There's nothing like the cold, hard shock of reality to bring a person's opinion of himself back to Earth.
This has already happened this year in Seattle with Leroy Hill. He turned down a contract extension, was franchised, had it rescinded after his former team drafted Aaron Curry, tested the free agent waters, and then signed the deal he originally turned down.
There's enough talent at the DE position to absorb the blow. As it stands now, there's a logjam at defensive end.
Tyler Brayton was very effective by the end of 2008. Charles Johnson was even more effective replacing him on passing downs.
Everette Brown was drafted to start. I personally have a difficult time believing the Panthers burned a 2010 first rounder to trade up and draft Brown to compete with Charles Johnson for first off the bench.
The Giants' amazing Super Bowl run in 2007 showed that along with talent, you need a solid rotation. I'd argue that the Panthers could be just as affective along the defensive line with a constant rotation of fresh bodies instead of one franchise defensive end.
Some might warn about the threat of a bad example. If the Panthers allow Peppers to strong-arm the organization, other players will treat the team like this, and soon we'll lose all of our marquee names.
This slippery slope simply doesn't hold up.
The most successful team in the league over the last decade, New England, is well known for letting their big name players leave when their contract demands don't align with the organization, or trading them and taking whatever they can get.
You can lose players when you draft well, and since the promotion of Don Gregory to head of scouting (who was recently re-signed through 2011), the Panthers' drafts have been excellent.
Additionally, Peppers' situation is unique, if we believe him, in that he doesn't want to play for John Fox or at his natural position.
The Panthers are notoriously generous with their contracts and quick to get them done. Before Julius Peppers, the only notable holdout General Manager Marty Hurney's tenure was Jon Beason's rookie contract.
The Panthers have shown time and time again that they'll overpay to keep homegrown talent (Chris Gamble and Jordan Gross most recently) and sign people they feel are key free agents (Maake Kemoeatu, Justin Hartwig, and Keyshawn Johnson).
The current situation isn't beneficial to anyone. The Panthers are built to win right now, and if the Peppers era is over, they need to simply cut ties and go. They have good, young, cost-effective talent to replace him, and they can improve the rest of the line after he's gone.
He's not the team. That designation would go to the other 52 guys that will make the roster—the ones that want to be here.