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Agent: Free agent Peppers likely to leave Panthers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Snubbed by the Carolina Panthers since the end of the season, the agent for five-time Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers is convinced his client will play elsewhere in 2010.

Carl Carey said Sunday night the Panthers have "not made a single inquiry this offseason" regarding the impending unrestricted free agent.

"And we don't expect to hear from them," Carey told The Associated Press in a phone interview, setting the stage for Peppers to become one of the top defensive players to hit the market in years ahead of a potential season without a salary cap.

Panthers general manager Marty Hurney didn't immediately return a phone message seeking comment.

"Julius wants to thank the Carolina fans and know their support has meant a lot to him over the years," Carey said.

Hurney and coach John Fox went to great lengths to keep Peppers in 2009, going against his public wishes to be allowed to leave as a free agent. The Panthers used the restrictive franchise tag and paid him an NFL-high $18.2 million. That counts a $1.5 million bonus for making the Pro Bowl after he recorded 10½ sacks.

Using the tag again next season would cost about $20.1 million, plus another $1.5 million for the Pro Bowl and $250,000 for each playoff win. Signing the 30-year-old to a long-term contract could likely cost in upward of $15 million a year.

"I think most people who have looked at the situation have understood the complexity of it for the Panthers," Carey said. "What I'm more surprised by is the silent treatment that they're giving Julius at this time. We have had a very respectful relationship with the organization and this is very much unlike what I'm used to seeing from them."

Carey said he talked with team officials on the day of the regular-season finale against New Orleans on Jan. 3, then initiated contact with the team shortly thereafter.

"They informed me they would make contact the following week," Carey said. "They never did. To date, we have still not heard from them."

The 6-foot-7, 283-pound Peppers, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2002 draft, has spent his entire eight-year career with Carolina. His 81 sacks are the third-most in the NFL during that span behind Miami's Jason Taylor and Dwight Freeney of Indianapolis.

A freakish athlete with tremendous speed and agility for his size, Peppers can dominate games — and disappear at times.

He was so disruptive in a December game against Minnesota that left tackle Bryant McKinnie was benched and Vikings coach Brad Childress wanted to take out Brett Favre to avoid injury, leading to their on-field argument.

But Peppers seemed to lack energy in the 2007 season, when he had just 2½ sacks in 14 games. He returned a year later to post a career-high 14½ sacks. He had five forced fumbles and two interceptions in 2009 despite being limited in the middle of the season with a broken hand.

Peppers, who grew up in Bailey, N.C., and played in college at North Carolina, said last offseason that he wanted to leave his home state and play as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Peppers skipped all offseason workouts, but had little leverage with the franchise tag and signed the one-year tender before training camp.

He didn't miss a game or practice and seemed to warm to new defensive coordinator Ron Meeks' 4-3 system, lining up at different spots on the line. But in a brief interview after a Pro Bowl practice Saturday, Peppers acknowledged that, "I'm just trying to get on a team right now. I just want to get a contract."

Carey said Peppers is willing to play in any type of defense next season.

"He has indicated to me that he is open to hearing from the remaining 31 teams in the league," Carey said. "He is open to any defensive scheme at this point."

Peppers took up 14 percent of Carolina's salary cap this season. That meant the Panthers had to find cheap labor in other areas and the special teams units suffered as Carolina finished 8-8.

The Panthers may not have to worry about a salary cap in 2010 if a new collective bargaining agreement is not reached. But Carey believes the Panthers "have moved on."

"He feels like he is just now entering his prime," Carey said. "He has an incredibly bright future ahead of him as he opens the next chapter of his life and his career."