I might as well get this out in the open, as everyone needs to at least get used to the idea that Julius Peppers may not be a suit up for the Carolina Panthers this season, nor will he be on a different team, perhaps until next season.
The Panthers have done a great job this offseason of masking the fact and the idea that Peppers will sit out the 2009 season, all because he hasn't been traded to a team of his choosing.
For anyone who can't read the blatantly obvious writing on the wall, the Panthers have mentally moved on, casting Peppers into football's version of limbo.
Carolina tried anything it could to keep Peppers and appease his wants by offering everything short of switching the entire defensive style to a 3-4 scheme.
Last season Carolina offered Peppers a lucrative contract extension that would have made him the highest paid defensive end in the league. Peppers turned down the team's offer.
During the regular season, Peppers performed exceptionally well, compared to previous seasons, having his best season in Carolina yet.
Life was great. Carolina was the happening place to be, rubbing elbows among the elite franchises in the league with a 12-4 record, a top-three rushing backfield, the best offensive line in the league and a great run-stopping defense.
Then, on that dreadful rainy night in Charlotte after a 33-13 drubbing from the Arizona Cardinals, the walls began to crumble.
A pillar in the Panthers' defense stated he wanted out of Carolina. There were no ifs, ands, or buts about it, Peppers was looking for the exit sign to leave Carolina.
Without missing a beat, the Panthers regrouped from the postseason loss, and moved on to the offseason.
The offseason saw a few contract renegotiations and saw at least one popular face, running back and special teams player Nick Goings, get released.
There were other casualties. Ken Lucas, who underachieved and was about as inconsistent from game-to-game and season-to-season as Julius Peppers has been, was one of the characters who the Panthers decided it was in the team's best interest they part ways, after Lucas turned down a trade to Detroit.
Out of a very quiet offseason, the Panthers did sign offensive tackle Jordan Gross to a very nice and understandable contract extension, while slapping the franchise tag on now disgruntled Julius Peppers.
If Peppers didn't want to reamain in Carolina, at the very least he was going to become trade bait.
There were a few nibbles on Peppers from around the league from teams like New England, Denver, Dallas and the rest of the usual suspects. Peppers refusal to sign his franchise tender, and a lack of salary cap space on the aforementioned teams, left a feeling of helplessness in the air.
I thought the Panthers would lower their asking price of Peppers come draft day but I was wrong.
At this point everything becomes cloudy, and that is due to the expert deception the Panthers are giving the media and fans, making Patriots-like statements that Peppers will be ready to play come the start of regular season. Meanwhile everyone in the front office who needs to know, is uncertain of the return of Peppers.
After seeing the Panthers' draft day, I call "bull crap" on the front office.
Once again, us fans watched the Panthers mortgage away next year's first round draft pick to move up in the second round and select Florida State defensive end Everette Brown, adding to the promising, already-talented defensive line.
I will not bat an eye when the Panthers have no other choice than to rescind the franchise tag on Peppers, and let him go of his own free will to sign with whatever team he chooses.
If it doesn't go that way, the Panthers will assuredly let him go at the end of the season.
With promising talent like defensive end Charles Johnson, a third-round selection in the 2007 draft and the likelihood Brown will be looking to make an immediate impact, the Panthers have little use for an overpriced player like Peppers, when they can get the same or better performance for less cost.
The Panthers explicitly expressed by there actions that this year's draft was to bolster the depth and talent on the defensive side of the ball. They accounted for who they already have: The keepers, maybes, doubtfuls and those who are no longer with the team.
Peppers was accounted for on the doubtful list.
Don't believe everything you hear, even when it's from the horse's mouth. The Panthers are doing their best not to let Peppers and the media attention he has drawn become a distraction to what they are trying to build on from last season.
The question is, what team will we see Peppers playing for in the next year?
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