CHARLOTTE – If the Carolina Panthers plan to trade defensive end Julius Peppers before the April 25-26 NFL draft, then general manager Marty Hurney is doing a pretty good job of hiding his cards.
Hurney told reporters Thursday during an informal press conference at Bank of America Stadium there has been no change in Peppers’ situation since the team placed the franchise tag on him back in February.
“We franchised him and it's really no different than any other player who has been franchised,” Hurney said. “We, as part of the franchise process with the non-exclusive tag, are not involved really in (trade scenarios). When we franchised Julius we did so with the intention of having him back -- and that's where it stands."
Of course that doesn’t mean things won’t change in the next eight days with a phone call.
Currently, the Panthers don’t have a draft pick until the end of the second round (59th overall), but that could change if they strike a deal for Peppers beforehand.
That would mean a number of things coming to fruition, including Peppers first agreeing to a trade and then signing a long-term contract with his new team as well as the Panthers getting what they view as adequate compensation for the four-time Pro Bowl selection and former No. 2 overall pick in the 2002 NFL draft.
If a trade doesn’t go through before next Saturday – and there are no signs right now another team has formally made an offer – then Hurney fully expects Peppers won’t sit out the 2009 season and will play for the Panthers.
Hurney bases that opinion on past conversations with Peppers, which were prior to the Panthers putting the tag on him and Peppers announcing that he doesn’t want to stay in Carolina.
“Again, we've known Julius for seven years and it has been a good seven years,” Hurney said. “I think he knows how we feel (about him) and we feel like he's been happy here. And again, nothing has changed. We franchised him and when we did we knew there was a period for the process to take place. When that process goes through then he’s going to be back.”
If he plays for Carolina this season, Peppers would be well compensated -- to the tune of nearly $1 million per game. He's due to make $16.683 million this season as the team's franchise player.
Although coach John Fox appeared to leave the door open for a Peppers trade at the NFL owner’s meeting last month in California, Hurney reiterated that nothing has changed in how the team views their defensive star.
“Our stance hasn’t changed,” Hurney said.
The means unless the Panthers get two first-round picks -- which is what another team would need to give up to sign Peppers to an offer sheet -- Hurney expects Peppers will play for the Panthers this season.
Because the Panthers have had to carry Peppers' contract under this year's salary cap, the team has been unable to sign any free agents because they have no money.
But that hasn't concerned Hurney.
"No, I mean, when we started this in 2002, our whole philosophy was build through the draft, keep your own core players," Hurney said. "Really I think that philosophy is working probably as well as it has. We have helped ourselves in drafts. We have some young players. We have a young nucleus. This is really the way you want to do it.
"I don't think this is unusual. If you look, there are a lot of teams that I regard as successful organizations, and successful teams that kind of have followed the same approach and aren’t very active in free agency. We’ve kept our nucleus together. We have a lot of starters (21 of 22) back from last year. We have some young players who I think can help our depth. We feel good about the makeup of the team. We hope to help ourselves in the draft next Saturday."