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Panthers: Pro Bowl defensive end Peppers likely to return



CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Carolina Panthers general manager Marty Hurney remains confident defensive end Julius Peppers will return to the team next season, even as he’s made public his wishes to play elsewhere.

In a pre-draft interview with reporters Thursday, Hurney said there were no new developments in the stalemate with their four-time Pro Bowl pick.

The Panthers placed the franchise tag on Peppers. He has not signed the one-year tender for $16.7 million, however, and has said he won’t sign a long-term deal with Carolina.

If a trade is not worked out, Hurney said he doesn’t believe Peppers would stay away from training camp.

“We’ve known Julius for seven years, and it has been a good seven years,” Hurney said. “I think he knows how we feel, and we feel like he’s been happy here. And again, nothing has changed. We franchised him, and when we did we knew there was a period for the process to take place. When that process goes through then he’s going to be back.”

Under the nonexclusive franchise tag, another team could sign Peppers only by giving Carolina two first-round draft picks. The Panthers could trade him for less than that, but because he has not signed his tender, only agent Carl Carey can negotiate with other teams.

Carey did not immediately return a message seeking comment. Hurney said he hasn’t been approached by Carey with a trade offer.

Peppers, who had a career-high 14 1/2 sacks last season, is causing the Panthers other offseason headaches, too.

Even though he hasn’t signed the contract, the $16.7 million counts against Carolina’s salary cap.

Saints hope to stay

NEW ORLEANS – Saints owner Tom Benson intends to buy a high-rise office tower next to the Louisiana Superdome, and the state has pledged to lease much of the building back as an incentive for Benson to keep his NFL club in New Orleans long-term, a state senator said Thursday evening.

“I don’t have all the details to it, but I understand that is going to be part of the overall package that’s being put together for the Saints,” state Sen. John Alario told The Associated Press. “It seems to be a good approach because it puts that property back into commerce and would reduce, I’m told, the state’s annual allocation to the Saints.”

The state and Saints are in the midst of sensitive negotiations aimed at extending the club’s lease of the Superdome until 2025.

Currently, the Saints’ lease runs through 2018, but a 10-year, $186 million package of escalating cash payments from the state to the team runs out after the 2010 season. At that time, the Saints could break their lease by paying a $15 million penalty.

Steelers keep Batch

PITTSBURGH – Backup quarterback Charlie Batch returned to the Pittsburgh Steelers by signing an $895,000, one-year contract that includes a $50,000 signing bonus.

The move Thursday was expected because Batch has been working out with the Steelers since missing last season with a broken right collarbone. Byron Leftwich replaced Batch as Ben Roethlisberger’s backup, but he signed a $7.5 million, two-year deal with Tampa Bay.

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