NFL Nation: unrestricted free agent

Pro Bowl Watch: Julius Peppers

January, 28, 2010
1/28/10
1:01
PM ET
Pro Bowl Watch: AFC East | West | North | South  NFC East | West | North | South

It is a meaningless all-star game that has been watered down more than usual this year. So why is there some NFC South intrigue to Sunday’s Pro Bowl?

[+] EnlargeJulius Peppers
Rick Scuteri/US PresswireSunday's Pro Bowl may be the last time we see Julius Peppers play as a member of the Panthers.
Well, it just might be the last time we see Julius Peppers in a Carolina Panthers uniform. Well, not quite a full uniform because he’ll be wearing an NFC Pro Bowl jersey that will include a patch with the Panthers logo and he’ll be wearing a Carolina helmet.

That’s easily the biggest NFC South storyline in this game because the Saints are sitting out, the Bucs don’t have a representative and Atlanta’s Roddy White and Carolina’s DeAngelo Williams and Ryan Kalil are the only other NFC South players in the game. There’s mystery with Peppers because we have no idea what his future holds.

He’s already been named to the NFL’s All-Decade team, which will be fully revealed Sunday, but Peppers is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent and that brings all sorts of questions about his future with the Panthers. Peppers was in a similar situation last year and asked out of Carolina. The Panthers didn’t grant his wish, instead placing the franchise tag on him and paying him about $18 million.

Peppers has stayed quiet about his desires this time around and the Panthers also have been silent on this issue. But a decision must be made about Peppers in February. The Panthers simply can let him walk into free agency, but that’s unlikely because they would get nothing in return.

It’s more likely they’ll use the franchise tag on him again. That doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll play for the Panthers at a salary of more than $20 million next season. The Panthers could use the franchise tag to protect their investment and then and trade Peppers for draft picks.

Stay tuned as this plays out in February, but you might want to watch the game because it may be the last time you’ll see Peppers as a Panther.

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