The Carolina Panthers brought back Julius Peppers in a surprise move that adds strength and depth to an already powerful defensive group.
The Carolina Panthers turned back the clock in 2017 free agency as they agreed to terms with Julius Peppers, one of the best defensive players to ever don the team colors. After seven years away from the organization, the 37-year old edge rusher is back with the team that drafted him in 2002. After success both with Carolina and beyond, it will be interesting to watch if this was the right move or another wishful grab by the Panthers front office.
There really shouldn’t be a debate as to whether or not Peppers has much gas left in the tank. The former North Carolina Tar Heel continued to put up impressive numbers in the box score in 2017. Last season, Peppers brought in 7.5 sacks while a part of the Packers. That same type of production would have been second amongst the Panthers, behind only the nine that Mario Addison earned. Since leaving the Panthers after the 2009 season, he’s registered no less than seven sacks in a single season, showing that he’s remained a model of consistency as a part of a defensive line.
However, the question becomes exactly where Peppers fits into this defensive line group. Getting pressure on the quarterback wasn’t much of a problem as the team ended with 47 sacks, second in the league. The run defense was also performing well as they held opponents to only 91.6 yards per game and 3.9 yards per attempt. Adding Peppers back to the group adds strength and depth at the right time.
Moreover, Peppers seems motivated to get back to Carolina after his initial departure in 2009 that rubbed many fans the wrong way. Peppers spoke on the matter following his new deal with the Panthers, via the team’s website:
“I always wanted to come back and repair the relationships and build that bridge back, not only with the team but with the fans, the people,” Peppers said. “That’s what this game is about, it’s about relationships. That was the most important thing for me to come back and tie up these loose ends and give the fans and everybody another chance to see me wear this uniform again.”
Some may wonder if the signing of Peppers can be sued to draw a conclusion as to where Carolina is in negotiations to re-sign Kawann Short. Even though his production was down a bit in 2016, he’s perhaps the most important piece on this defensive front four. The Panthers used the franchise tag on him, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t willing to create a deal that fits well for both parties. The signing of Peppers should not be seen as a threat of sorts to the return of Short with a long-term deal. It was that same franchise tag situation back in 2009 that played a part in Peppers leaving, in less than a positive way.
It’s still very early in the offseason, but the Carolina Panthers have already made a number of moves looking to rebound from a mediocre 2016 campaign. Bringing back Julius Peppers is more than a nostalgia trip. Instead, it adds a level of veteran play, consistency and depth that should benefit this defensive unit in a number of ways.