Peppers: Panthers tried to make me look bad

Julius Peppers described his offseason departure from Carolina

as ”a little sour” on Wednesday, claiming the Panthers tried to

paint him in a bad light after deciding to let him leave in free

agency.

In a conference call with reporters ahead of Peppers’ return to

Charlotte on Sunday with the Chicago Bears, the five-time Pro Bowl

defensive end said he was under the impression the Panthers decided

to ”do away with anybody who is making a significant amount of

money” as part of a roster overhaul that’s produced the NFL’s

youngest team.

”That’s a business decision. I can understand and respect

that,” the 30-year-old Peppers said. ”The problem that I had was

they tried to turn the tables and make it look like I wanted out no

matter what. Really, I didn’t have the option to stay. It was never

offered to stay.”

”So when I say it ended a little sour, I felt like it could

have been a little more respectful. At least a phone call to say,

‘It’s been good. We’re going in a different direction. We’re going

to let you go.’ They couldn’t even give me that.”

Peppers also disputed Panthers general manager Marty Hurney’s

earlier claims that they twice tried to make him the NFL’s

highest-paid defensive player. Peppers said that happened only

once, after the 2007 season, a deal he rejected.

Hurney didn’t return a message seeking comment, releasing only a

short statement that didn’t address Peppers’ criticism.

”Julius gave us eight great years and we appreciate everything

he did for us,” Hurney said.

The Panthers and Peppers were locked in a lengthy contract

dispute that included his pleas to allow him to leave in free

agency after the 2008 season The Panthers refused and used the

restrictive franchise tag, requiring a mammoth one-year deal that

paid Peppers $18.2 million last season.

The Panthers could have used the franchise tag again this

season, but at the cost of at least $20.1 million. The Panthers

declined and let the 6-foot-7 Peppers, the franchise’s career

leader with 81 sacks, leave without compensation.

The former No. 2 overall pick in the 2002 draft signed a

six-year, $91.5 million deal with the Bears in March. While he said

he’s happy in Chicago – he has two sacks, two forced fumbles and a

blocked field goal for the Bears (3-1) – he’s puzzled with how

things ended in Charlotte.

”I was kind of surprised because I was expecting to hear

something from them,” Peppers said. ”I didn’t understand what was

going on. But as the weeks and the months went by, I started

getting the picture of the direction they were going in and I knew

I wasn’t a part of it.”

Now Peppers, a Bailey, N.C., native who starred in college in

North Carolina, will return home to play the struggling Panthers

(0-4) for the first time on Sunday. After the two years of rocky

contract negotiations, Peppers said he has ”no idea” how he’ll be

received by fans.

But Peppers was clearly frustrated at the perception he doesn’t

play hard on every down. The reputation has stuck with him since

college and was fueled by games in Carolina in which the freakishly

athletic Peppers had little impact.

”I just see that as people not being able to form an opinion

for themselves,” Peppers said. ”People will hear one thing and

just run with it. … A couple people started saying it for

whatever reason, and then it followed me. And then people just kept

repeating it, even though it wasn’t true.”

Peppers, who also ranks first in Carolina history with 29 forced

fumbles and nine blocked kicks, is proud of his time with Carolina

despite the criticism and messy ending.

”Look at a guy like Dwight Freeney, who had (84) sacks or

whatever it was in eight seasons. I’m right there behind him at

81,” Peppers said. ”If people look at the numbers and stop just

making up stuff about how I played, you’ll realize I’ve done well

and really I think I exceeded expectations when I was brought to

that team.”

Notes: Panthers WR Steve Smith was on crutches in the locker

room after missing practice with a high ankle sprain. Smith is

expected to miss at least one game. … S Sherrod Martin

(concussion) sat out practice, but is holding out hope he’ll be

cleared to play Sunday. … RB DeAngelo Williams (illness) and RT

Jeff Otah (knee) didn’t practice, while LB Jamar Williams (neck)

was limited. … The first court appearance for Dwayne Jarrett, cut

on Tuesday after he was charged with driving while impaired, was

postponed from Wednesday to Nov. 12.