The Panthers could place the franchise tag on either LT Jordan Gross or DE Julius Peppers beginning today, and they have until Feb. 19 to do so.
The conventional wisdom (and frankly, most likely outcome) is that they do a long-term deal with Gross since he wouldn't mind staying, and then tag Peppers because he doesn't want to. Then you trade Peppers for whatever you can get.
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But what if the clock's ticking on the 19th (the deadline's 4 p.m.), and they don't have a deal done with Gross? Do you risk letting the bedrock of your now-good offensive line walk? Or do you tag him for $8.946 million and keep the strength of the team strong?
If Gross leaves, you basically have two options on the offensive line. You could move Jeff Otah to LT after a great year on the other side, or you kick LG Travelle Wharton outside again after he emerged as a premium player there last season. Either would be palatable, neither would be preferred.
Granted, getting nothing for Peppers isn't an ideal scenario either, but the reality is, come the 19th the Panthers might have to pick one or the other. Tagging Peppers means you could have neither, but picks on the way back. Tagging Gross means you keep him another year and wait until 2010 for that compensatory third-rounder you'd get for losing Peppers.
A lot of folks think this is an easy decision, but it might not be as clear-cut as you think.