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Peppers most likely staying with Panthers after signing franchise tender

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Julius Peppers' stalemate with the Carolina Panthers is over, leaving the defensive end rich and the NFC South champions free from worrying about a holdout.

Peppers signed his one-year, $16.7 million franchise tender Wednesday, five months after the four-time Pro Bowl selection first announced that he wanted to play elsewhere next season. It means Peppers, Carolina's all-time sacks leader, should be present for the start of training camp in August.

"Recently, I've had positive and productive discussions with the organization," Peppers said in a statement released by his agent, Carl Carey. "I am optimistic and focused as I look forward to the upcoming NFL season."

Shortly after the Panthers were eliminated in the playoffs in January, Peppers said he was "maxed out" in Carolina and wanted to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense.

Peppers insisted that he would never sign a long-term contract with the Panthers and pleaded for them to not place the restrictive franchise tag on him. Carolina did it anyway. It meant the Panthers had to give Peppers a contract that would pay him more than $1 million per game, but another team couldn't sign him unless it gave Carolina two first-round draft picks in return.

Peppers refused to sign the tender or attend offseason minicamps and optional workouts. Carey said they received some interest from other teams, but no deal was struck.

Peppers, who had been working out in Arizona, decided to sign with the Panthers when he realized he had few other options.

"Julius is more than satisfied with the outcome and is looking forward instead of backward," Carey said. "He is motivated, he's prepared and he's ready to play football."

Carey said the Panthers made no promise that they won't place the franchise tag on him again in 2010. General manager Marty Hurney said Peppers signing the tender doesn't mean Carolina now will try to trade the defensive end. Only Carey, not the Panthers, could negotiate with other teams while Peppers remained unsigned.

"I've said it a number of times: We want Julius Peppers here," Hurney said. "This one-year contract was signed with the intention of him coming to training camp on Aug. 2 with the Carolina Panthers."

It will go to a player who has been criticized for not playing hard on every down and disappearing for large stretches. Yet Hurney insists the Panthers have no worries about Peppers not giving his all despite his public pleas to play elsewhere.

"You go by actions. Julius has been the same guy for seven years, the same valuable, important player to us," Hurney said. "We haven't seen a change in that.

"He's a very competitive, prideful person that has always through his actions said that he likes being a Carolina Panther, he likes his teammates, and there's no reason to see a change in that. That's not a concern at all."

Peppers' contract has taken up so much salary-cap space that the Panthers didn't sign one free agent from another team this offseason. They also cut several veterans and didn't have enough room to re-sign veteran long-snapper Jason Kyle.

"We've been carrying this number all season, so it doesn't change," Hurney said.

The 6-foot-7, freakishly athletic Peppers, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2002 draft, had a career-high 14.5 sacks last season as Carolina went 12-4. That came after a miserable 2007 season when Peppers was held to 2.5 sacks and the Panthers failed to reach the playoffs.

After missing all offseason workouts, Peppers will have to catch up on new defensive coordinator Ron Meeks' system, designed to take advantage of the defensive end's speed and athleticism. Panthers coach John Fox said earlier this month that Peppers will catch up quickly.

"Obviously we're excited," Hurney said, "and I think Julius is excited."

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