Happy Trails to You, Julius Peppers


Holy Schnikes! The Carolina Panthers are officially moving ahead without defensive end Julius Peppers.

Am I really surprised? Nah.

In the end, this works out for both sides.

Carolina’s benefits:

  • Save $20 million

Yeah, that’s about all I could come up with, in regards to how the Panthers benefit. Which isn’t bad, really. That $20 mil can go towards anyone the team might be interested in acquiring in free agency, and in signing draft picks. But most importantly, re-signing any unrestricted free agents who showed they can contribute in areas where depth was needed.

Carolina’s loss:

  • A playmaker
  • An athletic freak of nature

Once again, that’s about all I was able to come up with; this time in regards to Carolina’s losses of allowing Peppers to become an unrestricted free agent.

I’ve read a lot of varying opinions on Julius Peppers, as well as formulating my own. And all-in-all I’d have to say—to be fair—the house is about split, 50/50, on Peppers.

There is no denying the man’s athletic abilities and prowess. There is no denying his statistical records, either. After all, the numbers don’t lie; while telling only a portion of the story, there is one thing we’ve all been told from on high. Stats are for losers.

Some find that last line upsetting. I used to. But it does hold a truthful quality to it. Because I know how for the longest time, I was entranced with Peppers—early in his career. I was wearing the necessary prescribed blinders to block out any missed tackles, any late hits, the games where he underperformed, the games where he didn’t show up, and the games where as an eighth-year veteran—2008 playoff game against the Arizona Cardinals—he looked no better than a rookie, getting pushed around and knocked on his ass.

Peppers is an enigmatic person. There’s no denying it. Because teammates, coaches, opposing athletes, and media personnel have no other response to offer than “that’s Pep being Pep,” for the times he’s had shortcomings in games or not seemed like his usual self.

But that’s befitting of all people, too. I didn’t write the prior paragraph to pick on Peppers. It just amazes me how so many people—former teammates included, haven’t been able to see the forest for the trees.

I was just as guilty. But I’m not upset in the least bit by this decision. Nor should you be upset by it.

At the conclusion of the 2009 postseason, Peppers made it very clear he wanted nothing to do with the Panthers organization in 2009, and pretty much demanded a trade.

Whatever his reasons, nobody really knows; even now. He’s never been one to speak openly and freely about what’s on his mind. That is, aside from last offseason, when he held the team hostage making demands that he be traded to one-of-four mystery teams.

I don’t blame the guy for wanting a change of scenery then. I don’t blame him for wanting a change of scenery now. In fact, I have more respect for him now than I did then.

Peppers eventually signed the franchise tender, which paid him just over a million dollars a game.

But he was an active participant, even though he skipped out on training camp—“that’s Pep being Pep.”

He played through the season, and gave new defensive coordinator Ron Meeks’ system a chance, and did pretty well with it.

He registered 10.5 sacks in 2009. Not bad by any means. No, nothing to scoff at…is it?

Let’s take a look at what teams these sacks were registered against.

In Week 1 against the Eagles, Peppers recorded a sack. Not bad, and the Eagles offensive line was still somewhat intact.

Weeks 2 and 3 (at Atlanta at Dallas) he took off.

In Week 5 he recorded two sacks against the Redskins. The local high school’s defense could have done the same thing; no big surprise there.

Same against the Buccaneers in Week 6: two sacks…against Tampa’s slow, plodding offensive line. They’re not setting the world on fire.

Weeks 7 and 8 Peppers recorded a sack apiece at Buffalo and Arizona. One team that was weak; the other team won a weak—ok, banged up division. Eh.

Oh look, Week 9 at New Orleans, Peppers missed the plane or something. He took the day off again. Same result in Week 10 against Atlanta.

I know somewhere in here was the case of the injured hand. Man was that something to see Peppers weilding the club hand. He should have used that to his advantage. Oh, he did, by taking off more plays. When asked about Pep’s hand, fellow defensive end Everette Brown’s only response was to smile, while lowering and shaking his head (Pep being Pep again).

Week 11 brought the Dolphins to town, a team that I felt pretty good, that the Panthers  had a decent chance of beating…Peppers recorded one forced fumble.

In Week 12, Pep got half a sack; I think that was an assisted sack.

Week 13 was the home date against the Buccaneers. One sack.

For some reason in Week 14 Peppers recorded nothing again, and against the Vikings and at New York he totaled two sacks. Once again, nothing in the regular season finale other than an intercepted pass at the end of the game, and that was against the Saints’ reserve players and quarterback.

So those are the numbers. They don’t lie.

Interestingly, Weeks 11 and 15 were Primetime games. Yes, at Dallas was primetime also, but the entire team had the deer-in-the-headlight look going with the monstrosity of a stadium they were playing in.

Week 17 against a New Orleans team of reserve players, and a non-primetime game, Pep chillaxed.

Let the buyer beware: While Peppers’ stats speak volumes, they are as transparent as glass.

Regardless of his flaws, Peppers is the biggest name to hit the 2010 free-agent  and someone might be calling the Brinks truck in to offer his bank-breaking contract.

What remains to be seen, is if that type of deal will be made on his first day as a free agent, or how many times he will hear, “you want more money than we can or are willing to pay.”

For some, it’s a sad day to see Pep leave. For others, it’s an opportunity to step up.

Don’t forget, you may follow Cat Crave on Twitter: @THECatCrave.