CHARLOTTE – The Hall of Fame career of Julius Peppers is over.
The dynamic defensive end has decided to retire after 17 seasons, including 10 with the Panthers. Peppers ranks fourth in NFL history with 159.5 sacks, including a franchise-record 97 in Carolina. With 11 interceptions, he is the only player in league history to record both 150 sacks and 10 interceptions.
“In getting to know Julius over these past months, I’ve learned that he is a man of few words. When he speaks, everyone listens,” Panthers owner David Tepper said. “With that in mind, I will be brief. He’s one of the best to ever wear a Carolina uniform. He carries himself with dignity, integrity and class, and will always be a Panther.”
The North Carolina native and University of North Carolina two-sport standout was selected No. 2 overall by the Panthers in the 2002 NFL Draft and played his first eight seasons and final two seasons in Carolina, in addition to four seasons with the Bears (2010-13) and three with the Packers (2014-16). He was a Pro Bowler nine times and an All-Pro six times.
"There are very few players that you come across that make you think of the word ‘special’ when you mention their name, but that’s Julius,” said general manager Marty Hurney, who made Peppers his first ever draft pick in 2002. “He’s a special player and a special person. His consistency and the ability to make big plays at big times are what define him on the field.
"Off the field, he’s a great leader. He chooses his words carefully. He’s got great perspective not only on football, but on life. For him to be able to come back and to finish his career as a Panther is a great ending to a phenomenal career.”
The 38-year-old played in 266 of a possible 272 regular season games, the sixth most games played by a defensive player in NFL history. He played in 176 consecutive games to close his career, the second-longest streak among active players at the close of the season behind Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers. Peppers was the oldest active defensive player in the league.
Peppers was a model of consistency with his disruptive, physically dominant style. He recorded at least seven sacks in all but two of his 17 seasons, including this past season when he finished with five. He had a sack in his final game, bringing down Teddy Bridgewater of the Saints to finish a half-sack behind Kevin Greene on the all-time list.
Sacks were the biggest way but not the only way that Peppers changed the course of games. Since his rookie year in 2002, Peppers’ 21 fumble recoveries are the most in the NFL, his 51 forced fumbles are second most (Robert Mathis has 52), and his 82 passes defensed are the most among defensive linemen. He also blocked 13 kicks, second most since the statistic began being tracked in 2000. He recorded 897 career tackles based on coaches’ film review.
Peppers made a big impact off the field, particularly in his final season. He is the Panthers’ nominee for the 2018 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year, which will be awarded on the eve of Super Bowl LIII. After Hurricane Florence tore through Peppers’ home state early in the season, Peppers has been generous with his time and his money as an advocate for ongoing recovery efforts.
Following his senior season at UNC, Peppers won the Lombardi Award given to the best player on and off the field regardless of position, and the Chuck Bednarik Award given to the nation’s best defensive player. He was NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2002 and finished fourth in voting for NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2004 and 2010, going down as one of the best players never to win the award.
“Julius is one of the greatest to ever play the game of football,” head coach Ron Rivera said. “To put up the numbers he did for as long as he did speaks to his incredible talent and commitment. He is a leader in the locker room and in the community. Getting to know him over the last two seasons has been tremendous because of the type of person he is. What he did for the people affected by Hurricane Florence, getting involved and bringing them hope, says a lot about who he is. I’m proud that I get to say that I was one of his coaches, and I think it’s fitting that he gets to end his career as a Carolina Panther.”
Julius Peppers Through The Years
View 90 photos of the legendary defensive end from his time in a Panthers uniform.