Carolina Panthers

January 19, 2009

Time for Panthers to move on, with or without Peppers

CHARLOTTE -- Sure, you're mad at Julius Peppers. But the Carolina Panthers can't be -- they don't have the time.

CHARLOTTE -- Sure, you're mad at Julius Peppers.

But the Carolina Panthers can't be -- they don't have the time.

It's perfectly reasonable for fans to be emotional over the fact that Peppers told them last week "it's not you, it's me." He's ready to leave, and you're not ready to let him. Anybody with an ex knows the feeling, and it's not one you get over in a day.

But the salient portion of yesterday's talking points was the way Peppers' agent Carl Carey kept emphasizing he's not signing a long-term deal -- not now, not ever.

There have been players who have made such threats before, squeaky wheels like Lance Briggs and Chad Johnson. Both returned after the ultimatums.

To confuse Peppers with Ocho Cinco, however, would be a grievous mistake. Unlike the Cincinnati Bengals' clown prince of receiving, Peppers is a thoughtful man of gravity. This is not a half-cocked publicity stunt. He has rolled this over in his head for more than a year, and his heart is not going to change course now.

That's why the Panthers must.

When people get emotional, people make mistakes, and the Panthers aren't in a position where they can afford any more.

As much as it hurts them, they have to do the following: Swallow your pride and move on. Set your jaw and focus on life without him. Get a deal done for left tackle Jordan Gross, then cut the best deal you can for Peppers. They'll almost certainly use the franchise tag on him so they get something for him, but they can't wait forever to make the best deal.

Get as many picks as possible, get him out of the conference if you can, and start over.

What they can't do, no matter how much it stings, is hang on, hoping they can change his mind.

Peppers is merely the latest in a long line of local icons who would go on to break fans hearts.

And that's a crime for which fans not only won't forget, but they won't forgive. He's going to become public enemy No. 1 around here, the kind of name that makes you scowl when you say it. He'll become so hated you won't even be able to order an Orange Julius without feeling like a turncoat. He'll become a synonym for betrayal.

He is not, however the first one to do this, as local history is littered with the old relationships that burned so bright and ended so badly.

Hi Julius, meet your new neighbors. This is Jim and his lovely wife Tammy Faye. You already know the NBA. Over there's Wachovia.

People used to love them. No, really. They were the life of the party. Right up until they weren't.

None of this is fair to Peppers, of course, but people quit caring about fair when it becomes personal.

You can stomp your feet. You can burn your No. 90 jerseys. You can perform voodoo hexes.

But the Panthers can't.

The business of the NFL is too cold, fast-moving and unfeeling for that.

Once they get over the shock, this could become a magnificent opportunity for coach John Fox and general manager Marty Hurney.

Aside from the X and O replacements that have to be made -- which aren't as deep or hard to solve as the emotional wounds -- it could be the very thing they use as a springboard.

Who wants to be here? Who wants to work? Who wants to win?

If you're a coach and can't write a stirring preseason speech out of this stuff, you ought to consider turning in your whistle, because the material is all laid out in front of you. If anybody thinks they can't play good defense without Peppers, all you have to do is show tape of 2007.

Then you gather in the ones you can count on, and you build around them.

You pay Jordan Gross, too much if you have to, because you've finally constructed a good offensive line and he's the keystone.

You make sure Jon Beason never leaves.

You buck up Jake Delhomme and send him back out there.

You do something to make Steve Smith mad -- because, let's face it, that's when he's at his best.

And then you get back to work.

That's all that's going to fix this mess.

Not begging, not pleading, not changing the schemes to suit him any more than you already have. Certainly not throwing more money at him than you have already offered, because he's made of sterner stuff than to be swayed by dollars and cents.

Today is step one in life without him.

That can bother you.

If the Panthers let it bother them at a personal level, they're only falling farther behind, and it won't be too long before it's too late.

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