Set Me Free

Charlotte,N.C. - Julius Peppers was polite, insistent that he has no problems with his coaches and stressed that North Carolina will always be his home.

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The four-time Pro Bowl defensive end just doesn't want to play for Carolina anymore - and hopes the Panthers grant the impending free agent his wish by not placing the franchise tag on him.
``If they decide to use the tag on me, the first thing that I'll be doing is requesting a trade,'' Peppers said Saturday. ``Then anything after, basically I don't know what would be the course of action. We'll deal with that when that time comes.''
In a conference call with reporters - Peppers' first extended interview since his agent announced last month he wouldn't sign a long-term deal with the Panthers - Peppers focused on his desire to leave coach John Fox's 4-3 defensive system to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.
And he hopes Carolina fans eventually respect his intentions to leave.
even years and when that contract expired, you wanted to do something different and you were told basically, 'I know you did all that and fulfilled what you're supposed to do, but you've still got to stay,''' Peppers said of the negative fan reaction.
``I don't think people would be willing to live under those same standards that they want to place on me. I say put yourself in my shoes and look at the situation instead of being emotional about it.''
For Peppers, it's simply about playing in a new system he hopes will better feature his freakish athletic ability. While Peppers wouldn't say which teams he's eyeing, Pittsburgh, New England, the New York Jets and Miami are among those with a 3-4 defense.
``I feel like my abilities could be maximized and I could be even more productive than I have been in the past in a new system,'' Peppers said. ``I feel like I've gotten close to maxing out in the system that I'm in now.''
It's the only system the Bailey, N.C., native and former North Carolina star has played in as a pro. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2002 draft, the 6-foot-7 Peppers is Carolina's all-time sacks leader and recorded a career-high 14 1/2 this season, when he was selected to the Pro Bowl again after a one-year absence.
anchise tag.
It's complicated by the impending free agency of starting left tackle Jordan Gross, who played under the franchise tag this past season. The Panthers would like to sign Gross to a long-term deal, then they could possibly tag Peppers and trade him.
Placing the franchise tag on Peppers would force the Panthers to offer a one-year deal for a whopping $16.7 million. But it would mean no team could sign him without giving Carolina first-round picks. That would allow the Panthers to work out a trade for less, but still get something in return for losing the key cog of their defensive line.
``I'm not going comment at all,'' general manger Marty Hurney said, when reached by phone Saturday after Peppers' conference call.
If Peppers left, the remaining defensive ends on the roster would be Tyler Brayton, Charles Johnson and Hilee Taylor, who combined for 11 1/2 sacks last season. The Panthers also do not have a first-round pick in April's draft, something they would likely insist on obtaining in a trade.
Peppers said he has no idea what the Panthers will do, and wouldn't say if he would hold out of offseason workouts and training camp if the Panthers keep him.
However, Peppers did offer some advice.
s he does and one player that says he wants to move on and try something different. If I was in that situation, I would try to accommodate the guy that wants to be there, No. 1 priority.''
The 29-year-old Peppers, who turned down Carolina's lucrative contract extension before last season, insisted he didn't decide he wanted to leave until after the Panthers' disappointing 33-13 loss to Arizona in the NFC divisional playoffs, where Peppers was held without a sack.
There had been speculation the quiet and reserved Peppers wanted to leave his home state, where he's often barraged with autograph requests when he's in public.
``If I were to sit here and say that had nothing to do with it, that wouldn't be the truth,'' Peppers said on the prospect of leaving North Carolina. ``But it's not as big of a deal as people may think it is.
``It's really more about me getting to the point where I feel like I'm happy and I'm comfortable with what I'm doing and how my career is going. North Carolina is home for me and it's always going to be home.''
But after seven years and 60 1/2 sacks, Peppers wants a new professional home.
``Seven years is a long time,'' Peppers said. ``Since I've been here, I've given everything I've had. There's never been a time I wasn't giving my all. Basically, it's a situation where I feel like it's a point in my career where I want to do different things.''

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Posted: 2/15/09 12:45PM ET

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