It would be understandable if Julius Peppers' teammates were angry.
First the four-time Pro Bowl defensive end announced he had "maxed out" in Carolina and would never sign a long-term deal. Then he sought a trade when the Carolina Panthers placed the franchise tag on him.
The latest act of Peppers' offseason of defiance came Friday when he was the only player missing from the start of the Panthers' three-day minicamp.
Yet it was impossible to find anybody visibly upset or concerned that the franchise's all-time sacks leader was in protest mode instead of accepting a guaranteed deal that would pay him more than $1 million a game.
"It's kind of what I expected. He hasn't signed his tender yet," coach John Fox said. "I know he's working out. He'll be in great shape."
Added defensive tackle Damione Lewis: "It's business. It doesn't make him a bad person. When he's ready to come in he'll be here."
General manager Marty Hurney remained confident there will be a happy ending of Peppers dressed in his familiar No. 90 jersey on the first day of training camp. Hurney said he remains in contact with Carl Carey, Peppers' agent.
"It's all been positive," Hurney said. "It just takes time."
Carey didn't return messages Friday. No trade involved Peppers at the draft last weekend, so Carey's options are limited. It's unlikely another team will sign him to a deal because that club would have to surrender two first-round draft picks to Carolina.
Because the 29-year-old Peppers hasn't signed the one-year, $16.7 million tender, Carey can negotiate a trade with other teams for less compensation. He would then have to come to the Panthers for approval.
But with the draft over, any picks Carolina would get would be for next year and not address the giant hole Peppers would leave on the defensive line.
Peppers' absence overshadowed Carolina's first workout under defensive coordinator Ron Meeks, who left Indianapolis to try to shore up a defense that faltered at the end of last season.
Charles Johnson worked in Peppers' spot at right defensive end opposite Tyler Brayton. They combined for 10½ sacks last season while Peppers alone had a career-high 14½.
Second-round pick Everette Brown of Florida State worked on the second-team defensive line. He, too, claimed to be unfazed that the player he idolized growing up in eastern North Carolina was a no-show.
"Julius is a great player and he's had a great career in Charlotte," Brown said. "I'm just coming out here and preparing to the best of my ability as if I'm a starter."
That might happen if Peppers is traded or holds out. But Fox was convinced Peppers will be on the field for the start of training camp. If that's the case, why hasn't Peppers already signed the tender?
"I couldn't tell you," Fox said.
If there was animosity among teammates who were sweating through two workouts without Peppers, it was hidden well.
"If we were playing today and he wasn't here, yeah, I'd be disappointed," quarterback Jake Delhomme said. "Things have a way of working themselves out. I don't think there's any doubt we'd love to have Julius out here."
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