The Carolina Panthers designated defensive end Julius Peppers as their franchise player for the 2009 season, the team announced Thursday.
By League rules, the Panthers must tender Peppers a minimum one-year qualifying offer of the average of the top five salaries from last season at his position or 120 percent of his 2008 salary, whichever is greater. A non-exclusive franchise player designation gives Carolina a first-refusal right to match within seven days an offer sheet given to Peppers by another club. If the Panthers match the offer, they would retain Peppers. If not, they would receive two first-round draft choices.
"We've expressed to (Peppers' agent) Carl (Carey) and we've said many times how much we value Julius and that we would like him to play here," said general manager Marty Hurney. "The collective bargaining agreement basically states that he has the right now to talk to teams and to solicit an offer sheet."
Hurney explained that the franchise tag gives the Panthers and Peppers several options. "He could sign the one-year tender, he could sign a multi-year deal with us or he can go get an offer sheet. Those are the options that go along with the franchise tag for any team that has franchised a player," Hurney said.
Peppers moved to right defensive end last season after playing left defensive end during his first six years. He led the Panthers with a career-high 14.5 sacks and earned Pro Bowl honors for the fourth time. Peppers has started 106 regular season games and eight postseason contests since being drafted in the first round (second overall) from North Carolina in 2002. He ranks as team's all-time leader with 70.5 sacks.
The Panthers have used the franchise tag twice previously on tackle Jordan Gross in 2008 and on punter Todd Sauerbrun in 2003 before signing him to an extension that fall. The team put the transition tag on running back DeShaun Foster in 2006 but rescinded it and signed him to a contract extension.