CHARLOTTE – Julius Peppers is heading home.
Peppers, a nine-time Pro Bowler, future Hall of Famer and a model of consistency, is returning to the team that selected him second overall in the 2002 NFL Draft. The Panthers have signed the North Carolina native and former Tar Heels standout to a one-year contract for the 2017 season.
Peppers still stands as the Panthers' all-time sacks leader with the 81 he amassed during eight seasons with the Panthers and has since added 62.5 more in seven seasons with two teams for a career total of 143.5 – fifth most in NFL history. That includes 7.5 more in 2016 with the Packers – his 14th season with seven or more sacks.
"Julius has been incredibly productive throughout his career," head coach Ron Rivera said. "When we watched Julius we saw he continues to bring tough, physical play to the field and he's going to be an important part of our rotation on the defensive line. Pairing him with Charles Johnson just adds to the veteran leadership in place on our defensive line, and those two are a great example for our younger players.
"The Panthers are entering their 23rd season in the NFL, and we're thrilled to have Julius back with the team as he has been a large part of the tradition and heritage of this franchise."
Peppers signed as an unrestricted free agent with the Bears following the 2009 season and logged four productive seasons before being released. Then, after the Panthers and Peppers talked about a possible reunion in 2014, Peppers signed a three-year contract with the Packers. He became a free agent Thursday.
The staggering sack numbers only tell part of the story with Peppers, a freakishly talented athlete who played two seasons of basketball at the University of North Carolina. Peppers turned 37 in January but maintains a good amount of his burst and big-play ability and should bring a positive energy to a Carolina defense that finished second in the NFL in sacks last season and has already locked up several potential free agents along the defensive front.
"I am very excited to have a second opportunity to work with Julius Peppers as his position coach," said defensive line coach Eric Washington, who coached Peppers in Chicago in 2010. "He is a unique talent who continues to be a consistent factor and threat to make game-changing plays for the benefit of the defense and his team. Julius is an exceptionally hard worker and conscientious about his approach to providing leadership by example."
View photos of defensive end Julius Peppers throughout his decorated NFL career.