I think Julius Peppers is gone. The Panthers can tie him up and lock him down. But I don't expect them to.
Some team, perhaps one of the Final Four a source told me Wednesday that Peppers was willing to play for, will be intrigued by his potential. And they'll cut a long-term deal with him and cut a deal with the Panthers.
The rules say that a team has to give the Panthers two first-round draft picks. The rules lie. The Minnesota Vikings gave Kansas City one first-round pick and two-third round picks before the 2008 season for their star franchise pass rusher, Jared Allen. Both Peppers and Allen had 14 1/2 sacks last season.
If the Panthers, who are coming off two strong drafts, can get three picks, one in the first round, for Peppers, they should jump. I'd jump.
Some of you want to see the Panthers play hardball, and grind Peppers down and show him who runs the show and you're so angry that you'll never wear your No. 90 jersey again. You're the same fans who vowed to boycott Major League Baseball after the strike and vowed to boycott Carolina middle linebacker Jon Beason after his holdout in '07. But there you were at the ballgame with a hot dog and a beer, and there you were cheering for Beason, who was Carolina's most valuable defensive player last season.
The Panthers will take the best deal they can get. There are some intriguing combinations. My source wouldn't identify the four teams when I broke the story Wednesday ( I know that's pretentious, "broke the story," but I hear other writers use the phrase all the time whether it's true or not and I wanted to try it out).
He would say only that one of the teams was Dallas, that one was in the AFC and two were teams to which the Panthers would not want to trade Peppers.
The latter indicates that the teams are on Carolina's schedule next season.
The AFC team? I'd guess Miami, Houston or New England.
The Peppers issue has become polarizing, everybody is taking sides, and few are taking his.
The issue is much more interesting than Carolina's playoff game. By halftime, we knew how that one would turn out.
Where Peppers will go, and for what?
I have no idea.