Peppers, Panthers look to future

CHARLOTTE - On a frigid Monday morning, Carolina Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers put the chilly talk of a year ago behind him.

He still would not say whether he wants to remain with the Carolina Panthers - he asked for a couple of days to contemplate his future - but he said the comments he made last year about wanting to play elsewhere were no longer pertinent.

"That was a year ago," he said. "I don't really think it's productive to go back and re-open those conversations about what I was feeling at that time because it was a year ago. Anything that was said a year ago is irrelevant right now because it's a new situation and it's a new day."

For the second consecutive year, Peppers has come to the end of his contract and has a chance to become an unrestricted free agent on March 5, but only if the Panthers decide to let him go without compensation.

Much of what happens next is up to Carolina officials.

The Panthers are allowed to begin negotiations on a long-term deal now that the season is over. Also, the team could opt to use its franchise tag on him for a second consecutive year. However, the price tag for one year would be around $20.1 million.

Teammate Damione Lewis, a defensive tackle, said he believes Peppers wants to stay. While Peppers did not say that, he sounded more open-minded than last year.

After taking issue with the Panthers' previous defensive system, Peppers said he enjoyed playing in the "Cover 2" scheme of first-year defensive coordinator Ron Meeks.

"It was better," Peppers said. "I was happy with how I was used and how we did on defense."

Peppers finished 10th in the NFL with 10 1/2 sacks and tied for third with five forced fumbles. Carolina was eighth in the league in total defense, fourth against the pass, and 22nd vs. the run.

The Panthers won their last three games, but finished the season 8-8 and out of the playoffs, which Peppers said was foremost on his mind.

"It's disappointing because I want to still be playing, but the record says we're not allowed, so that's all I'm thinking - what could have been," he said.