By The Associated Press
Julius Peppers was slapped with the franchise player tag by Carolina on Thursday, making it more difficult for the star defensive end to get his wish and leave the Panthers.
The tag was applied after the Panthers agreed on a new contract with left tackle Jordan Gross. That cleared the way for Carolina to use the team's only franchise tag on Peppers, who had 14 1/2 sacks last season but expressed his desire to leave the Panthers and their 4-3 scheme for a team that plays a 3-4 defense.
The move came on the final day for teams to apply a franchise designation, which keeps a player under the control of his current team for an average salary of the top five players at his position. Overall, 14 of the NFL's 32 teams protected players with the franchise tag.
In addition to Peppers, among those tagged on Thursday were cornerback Dunta Robinson of Houston; tight end Bo Scaife of Tennessee; linebacker Leroy Hill of Seattle; and offensive tackle Max Starks of Pittsburgh.
Meanwhile, All-Pro cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha re-signed with Oakland, avoiding the franchise tag he had last season by agreeing to a three-year contract that's thought to be the richest ever given to a defensive back. It's value is estimated at $30 million.
But the most intriguing move involves Peppers, the second overall pick in the 2002 draft. His big season followed a 2007 in which he had just 2 1/2 sacks.
A person close to Peppers said on Wednesday that the defensive end would agree to be traded to only four teams, including the Dallas Cowboys, who do not have a first-round pick and would be unlikely to make a deal -- a team that signs a franchise player owes his original team two first-rounders, although deals have been made for less than that.
That could leave the Panthers facing the prospect of a holdout or eating up a huge portion of the salary cap by spending more than 10 percent on one player.
"Julius was expecting to be franchised," Peppers' agent, Carl Carey, wrote in a text message to The Associated Press. "We will continue to work toward a resolution that is in line with his professional goals."
Gross, who also made All-Pro, agreed to a six-year deal, keeping the Panthers' offensive line intact and keeping the team from risking the loss of two key players to free agency.
In addition to the Asomugha signing, the Indianapolis Colts re-signed cornerback Kelvin Hayden to a deal reported to be $43 million over five years. The team would have considered franchising Hayden had they not agreed to terms.
Scaife was the Titans' leading receiver in 2008 with a career-high 58 catches, a number that ranked him seventh among NFL tight ends. The franchise tag means Scaife will earn $4.46 million for 2009.
Robinson, who suffered a serious knee injury in 2007, returns to the Texans for nearly $10 million for one season if a long-term deal can't be worked out.
Hill will receive $8.3 million from the Seahawks.
Starks was franchised although he has started only 45 of 72 games in his five seasons with the Steelers, including the final 11 last season at left tackle. He will receive $8.45 million for one season.