CHARLOTTE -- Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers has said for months he doesn't want to be compared to Indianapolis counterpart Dwight Freeney when it comes to contract terms.
Freeney likewise had problems determining his value, before setting a new expectation with the six-year, $72 million deal with $30 million in guarantees he signed with the Colts in July.
"I mean that's up to Julius, his agent and how they decide to negotiate," Freeney said when asked if he was now the bar for Peppers' new deal. "For me, I was the first up, I had no one to negotiate against. It wasn't like I could say, hey Julius got this, because he hadn't gotten his contract yet. The only guy I could negotiate against was pretty much the highest paid number, which was (Dolphins end) Jason Taylor, and his contract was done in 2001."
Freeney joked that he needed "2 percent" of whatever new deal Peppers got, and said setting the standard with his contract was important to show that top defensive players could and should be paid like premier skill-position players.
"I've always had a problem with guys being paid just based on the position that they play, as if their positions aren't as important as other positions," he said. "You have eleven guys on the field at a time. Any one of those guys can be a huge influence. So what are you trying to tell me is that a tight end who is a dominant tight end can't get paid as much as a receiver just because he's a tight end? It's almost like your punishing a guy based on the position he plays. Guys should really get paid based on there impact on their team."
Peppers, whose contract runs through the end of the 2008 season, has always balked at the comparisons between himself and Freeney.
They came out the same year (2002), when Peppers was the second overall pick and Freeney the 11th. Both have been to three Pro Bowls. Entering this season, Freeney had 56.5 sacks to Peppers' 53.5, and he has a 3.5-1.5 edge this year.
"The reason that I have not signed an extension with the Panthers has nothing to do with Dwight Freeney," Peppers told The Herald in an e-mail last spring. "I don't know where people get the notion that I am waiting on him before I sign my next contract. He might be waiting on me, but my contract does not expire until after the 2008 season.
"Furthermore, I wouldn't compare my value as a player to Freeney or anyone else because I see myself as a complete defensive end and not just a pass-rusher."
Colts coach Tony Dungy acknowledged that the Panthers use Peppers in more ways, but said he and Freeney were similar in that they had to be under constant surveillance.
"Julius is just a bigger guy, he plays on the left side and he's still very disruptive," Dungy said. "You've got to account for him. They probably do more things with him in terms of dropping him into pass coverage and that kind of stuff. But those guys are athletic and they have the knack of making the big play. They create turnovers and they're guys you've got to account for when you game plan.
"You don't just say, 'That's any old end over there,' you have things set up for how you want to block them. I think that's the mark of great players, that you have to account for them."
• LONE HOLDOUTS: For all the talk about next week's New England-Indianapolis showdown, both sides will have to overcome history this weekend to get there unscathed.
The Panthers are 3-0 all-time against the Colts, winning in 1995, 1998 and 2003, by a combined 14 points in those games. They're the last team Peyton Manning hasn't beaten. Likewise Patriots quarterback Tom Brady hasn't beaten Sunday opponent Washington, the only team other than his own he hasn't beaten in his career.
They'd become the first quarterbacks in league history to beat 31 teams if they win this weekend.
However, Dungy's message to his team all week has been to not look past the Panthers to the game everyone wants to see.
"One thing our team has been good at is playing the schedule and playing one week at a time," Dungy said.