Charley Casserly, the former Houston Texans and Washington Redskins general manager, said today that Panthers' unrestricted free agent defensive end Julius Peppers may not find a team willing to pay him as much as the deal he turned down from Carolina last summer.
"I think it's a fascinating one to watch," said Casserly, now an analyst for the NFL Network and CBS Sports.."I don't know what Carolina's final numbers were, but Carolina has never been cheap with players. They've always paid the market and maybe a little bit above to make sure it gets done.
"Maybe the best deal he would have had will be the one he had a year ago."
It's believed the Panthers offered Peppers a contract averaging somehwere between $13 and $14 million per year last summer, but that the offer fell short of Peppeers' demand to be the highest paid defensive player in NFL history.
The Panthers recently decided not to put their franchise tag on Peppers for a second consecutive year because it would have required them to make him a one-year tender offfer of $20.0196 million plus a $1.5 million Pro Bowl incentive bonus.
Peppers can begin fielding offers from other teams once the free agency signing period opens March 5. Among teams believed to have an interest are Philadelphia and Chicago.
"Will there be some teams interested in him? There are a going to be a few, but not a lot," said Casserly. "I don't think you're going to see a big market for the guy."
Peppers, 30, is a five-time Pro Bowler who recently was named to the NFL's all-decade team. He holds the Panthers' team record with 81 career sacks. However, the consistency of his effort has been questioned at times.
"When you watch him as a player, I think his whole career has been the same," said Casserly. "This guy can turn it on like he did against the Minnesota Vikings (last season) ... but he's had games where he doesn't show up for the whole game, doesn't play hard all the time and isn't totally productive.
"He's (also) 30 years old, so you're going to hold breath a little bit on this one. But I think he's going to get a heck of a contract and he clearly is the No. 1 guy out there."
There has been speculation that the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina's rival in the NFC South Division, could have an interest in Peppers.
Atlanta coach Mike Smith would neither confirm nor deny interest in Peppers Friday, but made it clear the team's top priority in the offseason is to improve its pass rush and pass defense, needs that would fit what Peppers does best.
Smith said he's glad he'll no longer have to play against Peppers twice a year.
"Having Julius Peppers out of the NFC South would be a good thing," said Smith. "He has been an outstanding player for a number of years. He's a guy you always have to be aware of where he is aligned and you always have to scheme to protect your quarterback."
Asked specifically if the Falcons were interested in trying to sign Peppers, Smith said: "This year the free agent class is not as deep. There's not as many numbers. We're going to do our due diligence on every free agent that's available and we've been spending a lot of our offseason (doing), not only on the personnel side, but with our coaching staff watching tape."
-- Charles Chandler, Charlotte Observer