Peppers makes clear he wants out of Charlotte

The HeraldFebruary 15, 2009 

Julius Peppers reiterated on Saturday his desire to leave the Panthers and find a new team.

FILE, DAVID T. FOSTER III • THE CHARLOTTE OBSERVER

CHARLOTTE -- People can refer to Julius Peppers as a Carolina Panthers defensive end for now. But it's more clear than ever he wants to change both those titles.

In a wide-ranging conference call with local and national reporters Saturday, Peppers reiterated his desire to leave the Panthers so he can play in a different system. He's indicated from the start he's intrigued by the possibilities of playing in a 3-4 defense, but said Saturday he's not limiting himself to considering those teams.

Mainly, after seven years playing for his home-state team, he wants to see a little more of the world, on and off the field.

"When I say reaching my potential, that's not a slight against coach (John) Fox and his system," Peppers said. "I enjoy playing that system. I excelled in it. I feel like I've been productive for the most part my whole career. When I say I want to reach my potential, that's a personal thing. I'm not trying to blame coach Fox or any other coach I've worked with.

"Basically, I have personal standards and personal goals. That's more of a thing, I feel like my abilities, I feel like they could be maximized and I could be even more productive than I've been in the past. I'm close to maxing out in the system that I'm in now."

Peppers sloughed off every opportunity at a reconciliation with the Panthers during the 20-minute conversation.

He said if the Panthers did use the franchise tag to limit his availability (which is expected if they can re-sign left tackle Jordan Gross), he would immediately ask for a trade. When asked if he would have stayed if the Panthers switched to a 3-4, Peppers called that "fantasy football."

"Coach Fox is a 4-3 guy, and I could never really see him switching and going to a 3-4," Peppers said. "I can't really answer that question because I don't think it's possible."

Panthers team officials said they would have no comment on Peppers' statements. They have until Feb. 19 to decide whether to use the tag on Peppers, or Gross, and haven't indicated which direction they will go.

Asked to put himself in general manager Marty Hurney's shoes, Peppers said he would clearly set himself free.

"If it was my decision, basically this is what I would do," he said. "Jordan Gross has come out and stated he wants to sign an extension with the Panthers. You've got one player who says he does and one player who says he wants to move on and try something different.

"If I was in that situation, I would try to accommodate the guy that wants to be there, No. 1 priority."

The Panthers may well do that, in which case Peppers would be able to explore the market as a free agent.

He wouldn't mention any of the places he would like to play if that happened, but he clearly has a list in mind. Though he said it wasn't a determining factor, he said the ability to leave his home state played a role.

"If I said that had nothing to do with it, that wouldn't be the truth," Peppers said. "But it's not as big of a deal as people may think it is. It's really more about me getting to a point where I feel like I'm happy and I'm comfortable with what I'm doing and how my career's going.

"North Carolina's home for me, it's always going to be home, so even if I do leave, it's not like I just want to get away. It's home. It's really not as much about that as you may think."

Peppers also quelled speculation that his exit strategy had anything to do with the previous coaching staff. Since he made his intentions known through his agent a month ago, the Panthers have turned over nearly the entire defensive staff.

"Seven years is a long time," Peppers said. "Since I've been here, I've given it everything I've had. There's never been a time I wasn't giving my all. Basically, it's a situation I feel it's the point in my career where I want to do different things.

"It has nothing to do with anything that happened between me and any coaches, me and the owners of this team, nothing to do with anything anybody said. I just feel like personally, for me and my career, it's time for a change. And that's pretty much it."

Peppers has been one of the Panthers' signature players since the day he arrived, as the second overall pick in the 2002 draft -- Fox's first as head coach.

And while he stressed he had no ill will toward the Panthers, he asked fans to understand his desire to leave.

"Basically, the fan support since I've been in Charlotte has been tremendous," he said. "Basically, what I'd say to these people is, you have to take the emotional part of it out, and look at it, put your own self in the situation. If you were being held back in your job, and you fulfilled your contract and all the obligations you had contractually, and did everything you had to do, and worked seven years, and it was time for that contract to expire and you wanted to do something different, then I know you did all of that, and fulfilled what you were supposed to do, and basically you decided not to stay.

"I don't think people would be willing to live under those same standards they want to place on me. I just don't feel like you would. What I'd say is, 'Put yourself in my shoes, and look at the situation instead of being emotional about it.'"

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