The Carolina Panthers have seemingly taken a 180-degree turn in their pursuit of Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers.
According to his agent, Carl Carey, the Panthers have "not made a single inquiry this offseason" in regards to contract negotiations with the team's top pick in the 2002 draft.
This is a complete reversal of their strategy from last year, where head coach John Fox and general manager Marty Hurney seemed adamant about keeping Peppers in town, eventually placing the team's franchise tag on him when negotiations for a long-term contract fizzled out.
Hurney made it clear that Peppers was, in the team's eyes, an absolute necessity to the team's future plans, and went so far as to answer questions from fans on a local radio show following the team's decision to place the franchise tag on Peppers.
It has been widely assumed that the Panthers are attached to Peppers at the hip and won't let him go for anything less than what they value him as, which is the franchise player. It has also been speculated that if the Panthers were to move Peppers this offseason, it would only be in a deal where they were able to get back into the first round of the draft, a luxury they shipped off to San Francisco last year for the opportunity to draft DE Everette Brown.
This reversal of attitude for the Panthers is strange, but doesn't necessarily signal their intent to let Peppers walk out of the door. The Panthers still hold Peppers' rights until free agency begins, and the team could be waiting to offer a contract to Peppers until it is determined whether the 2010 season will have a salary cap or not.
It doesn't seem likely that the team would be comfortable with the other defensive ends on the roster to let Peppers walk with no compensation. Without a representative from the Panthers having made public the team's intentions or thought process, the doors are open to speculation.
Placing the franchise tag on Peppers again for the 2010 season would cost the team over $20 million, and a long-term deal would probably cost around $15 million per year. Peppers has notched 81 sacks in his eight years in Carolina and just played in his fifth Pro Bowl.