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News » Peppers uncertainty leave Panthers squeezed by cap

Peppers uncertainty leave Panthers squeezed by cap

Peppers uncertainty leave Panthers squeezed by cap
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Almost every move the Carolina Panthers make - or can't make - this offseason is based on one figure: $16.7 million.

That's the staggering salary-cap number four-time Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers carries under the franchise tag. The money counts on the cap even though Peppers hasn't signed the one-year tender and has said he wants to play elsewhere.

The unresolved issue has left the Panthers on the free agency sidelines. The Panthers have less money to spend than any NFL team with Peppers, quarterback Jake Delhomme and newly re-signed left tackle Jordan Gross taking up loads up cap space.

It's why they've yet to sign a free agent, while backup offensive linemen Geoff Hangartner (Buffalo) and Frank Omiyale (Chicago) and kick returner Mark Jones (Tennessee) and linebacker Adam Seward (Indianapolis) have left for other teams.

The Panthers are so strapped that after signing journeyman fullback Nehemiah Broughton in January, they released him earlier this month because a few players had bonus money due that put them over the $127 million cap.

The Peppers situation could drag out to next month's draft or beyond. Because Peppers has not signed his tender, only his agent, Carl Carey, can negotiate with other teams. Since it's unlikely a team would sign Peppers and give the Panthers two first-round draft picks under the franchise tag rules, the Panthers would have to approve any deal for less compensation Carey might broker.

Even if Peppers signs the tender, the Panthers would likely need Peppers' approval for any trade they arrange since the team that gets him would almost certainly demand Peppers first agree to a new contract.

Carey did not return messages on Friday, while Panthers coach John Fox this week defended Peppers despite his earlier comments that he felt he "maxed out" in Carolina's 4-3 defensive scheme.

"Maybe I feel like I'm maxed out," Fox joked from the NFL owners meetings in Dana Point, Calif., on Wednesday. "The difference is there are contracts. That's professional sport. You can't just do what you want when you want. That doesn't surprise me. It doesn't sting me."

Fox acknowledged he hadn't talked to Peppers since the end of the season, but wouldn't write off Peppers returning to Carolina.

"Let the system play out," Fox said. "I can't lean one way or the other."

Fox also reiterated his faith in Delhomme, who threw five interceptions and lost a fumble in Carolina's 33-13 loss to Arizona in the NFC divisional playoffs. The 34-year-old Delhomme is in the final year of his contract and has an $11 million cap figure. While there have been discussions about a contract extension that could save more than $2 million in cap space, Delhomme's agent, Rick Smith, said Friday there was nothing imminent.

"There is no question we've got a commitment to Jake," Fox said. "Whether that comes to fruition with a contract (extension), I can't say."

If Peppers ends up staying with Carolina, the Panthers would have to extend Delhomme or make moves with other players just to have enough cap space to sign their five draft picks and shore up other areas.

Losing Hangartner and Omiyale left the Panthers without depth on the offensive line. After releasing starting cornerback Ken Lucas to clear cap space, the Panthers need a No. 3 cornerback behind Chris Gamble and likely new starter Richard Marshall. Carolina needs help on the defensive line, too.

The draft also won't have as much impact. The Panthers also don't have a first-round pick after trading it to Philadelphia last year to draft right tackle Jeff Otah.

"We got our first-rounder last year," Fox said. "As far as cap-wise, I don't know that we've ever been really big players in free agency to begin with. I think we've got a good young core for a football team. We're comfortable working through the draft, and always have been."

Still, the budget is tight. Consider veteran Jason Kyle has been Carolina's long-snapper since 2001. Right now, the Panthers don't have the cap space to re-sign him, either.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: March 27, 2009

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