Julius Peppers didn't want to open up on his former team Wednesday when he entered the Halas Hall media room as a substitute in the time slot generally reserved for quarterback Jay Cutler.
The Carolina Panthers have executed a salary dump, putting general manager Marty Hurney and coach John Fox, in the final year of his deal, in a tough position. They're rebuilding, but the Panthers are 0-4 and there are no guarantees for the men charged with turning it around.
"As far as I see it, they still have pretty good talent over there," Peppers said. "They have two of the best running backs in the league and one of the best receivers. The offensive line is solid and they have talent on defense. I don't really know the situation that the owner's going in.
"Well, obviously he's going in a different direction with the moves that they made in the offseason. But as far as putting the coaches and the general manager in a position to fail, I really can't speak on that because I don't know what he's thinking."
Peppers was a little more direct on a conference call with Carolina reporters, however.
"(The Panthers did) away with anybody who is making a significant amount of money."
Peppers said the Panthers never called him to inform him they were going to let him depart via free agency. He clearly has some animosity lingering, but seems quite at home with his $91.5 million contract.
"They tried to turn the tables and make it look like I wanted out no matter out," Peppers said. "I didn't have the option to stay."
Defensive end grew up in North Carolina, played for Panthers
Julius Peppers says he expects to be booed by the fans of his former team when the Bears travel to Carolina on Sunday.
"That's what fans do," said the defensive end, who grew up three miles from Charlotte, N.C., where the Panthers play their home games. Peppers played his college ball at the University of North Carolina.
"That's why they come to the game, (booing) is a part of the game. You're there to boo the opposing team. I am not a part of the (Carolina) team anymore, so I understand that," he said Wednesday.
October 6, 2010
BY MIKE MULLIGANmmulligan@suntimes.com
Jay Cutler's availability for the game Sunday at Carolina overshadows what should have been the top story line: Julius Peppers' return to his home state for a game against his former team. A former NFL general manager raised the issue with an interesting question: Is there any way Cutler would be back Sunday if Peppers were still with the Panthers?
It's a trick question, of course, because if Cutler is going to play he must be able to take a hit from anyone, including -- or, in this case, excluding -- Peppers.
» Click to enlarge image Julius Peppers said he isn't sure how he will be received when he returns to Carolina.
The big defensive end shook his head without hint of a smile when asked if he was Carolina's LeBron James. Maybe the more relevant question is whether he's their Donovan McNabb, who received a standing ovation from the Philadelphia fans Sunday before inevitably hearing the boo-birds when he started having success.
''I don't know how I will be received down there,'' Peppers said. ''It really doesn't make a difference to me because, regardless, you have to play the game. I still have a large fan base down there, I know that. I have people who don't like me, too. ... I don't know which crowd is going to be there.''
The Bears aren't sure that Cutler will be there. One league source predicted he won't be starting because the Bears' doctors won't clear him to play. The logic gets a bit convoluted, but it all goes back to defensive end Gaines Adams, who died in January of cardiac arrest because of an enlarged heart. There's no way the condition could have been diagnosed by the team, but perhaps the experience of losing a player at age 26 has led to a more conservative approach in all medical matters.
The Bears wear a No. 99 decal in honor of Adams and might acknowledge him in another way, too. The source said the Bears red-flagged a whopping 14 players out of the Indianapolis Scouting Combine, including one player who went in the first round. It was a direct reaction to the Adams tragedy. Linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer was deemed out for the season because of a concussion instead of being given a few weeks to clear his head.
Every concussion is different
Not surprisingly, the Bears find the theory absurd. A team source said doctors always have been fully committed to player safety and in the forefront of concussion management. A conservative approach is nothing new, and connecting Adams and Cutler is illogical because the medical issues are so different. As for Hillenmeyer, the team insists every player's situation is different regarding concussions.
Research shows one concussion can make a person more susceptible to another, and the severity of injury increases the more you have them. Justin Morneau of the Minnesota Twins, for instance, recently was ruled out of the MLB playoffs after failing to recover fully from a concussion suffered July 7 when he was kneed in the head on a takeout slide at second base. Morneau suffered at least one severe concussion while playing hockey in his early teens and another when he was beaned in 2005.
Nobody is sure how many concussions Cutler has received, but the Bears knew Hillenmeyer once complained of vertigo that might have been related to concussion. Presumably, they are aware of any other concussions he received as an NFL player because he has spent his entire his eight-year career with the team. The Bears also have a baseline test for every player that is used to measure injury. League guidelines dictate that any player suffering a concussion must pass a neurological examination with a team physician and an independent doctor.
The NFL is a violent sport where the quarterback is hunted prey. Cutler will be targeted and hit as he has been in every game this season. Given the Bears' protection concerns, Cutler likely will be hit multiple times, a fact that isn't supposed to matter in the final evaluation but probably should.
Peppers came to Chicago after Adams passed away, but the Bears insist they would have signed him even if Adams had lived. Ideally, the two would have played opposite each other. Peppers was the best player on the free-agent market, even if he had a reputation for taking plays off, something that hasn't remotely been a problem for him with the Bears. Doubters in Carolina say that is because Peppers has wanted to play well in his debut with the Bears and in nationally televised games against Green Bay and the New York Giants.
Decision to leave was easy
No doubt he'll want to play well against his old team, too, especially if the defense is effectively left to fend for itself without Cutler under center. Peppers said he didn't leave Carolina of his own accord. The Panthers decided to go in another direction and made his decision to leave easy.
''I have moved on,'' he said. ''I am here now, and it's all about this team.''
If it is all about the Bears, then it's all about Cutler. His status might be a headache for everyone involved, including the doctors responsible for clearing him to play.