CHARLOTTE, N.C. — After defensive end Charles Johnson on Tuesday re-signed on a two-year deal worth $9.5 million with the Carolina Panthers, he’s ready to help recruit free-agent defensive end Julius Peppers.
Johnson would like himself and Peppers, 37, to retire with the team that drafted them.
Peppers, who spent the past three seasons playing outside linebacker with the Packers, spent his first eight NFL seasons playing end at Carolina after being made the second pick of the 2002 draft. He still ranks first on the team’s all-time sack list with 81.
Johnson, 30, is second with 67.5 since Carolina selected him in the third round of the 2007 draft out of Georgia.
Johnson made it clear Carolina is where he wants to retire and said it would be fitting if Peppers did the same thing in his home state.
“I just want to see him retire a Panther,” he said.
General manager Dave Gettleman admitted last week at the NFL combine that Carolina almost brought Peppers back in 2014 when he signed with Green Bay for the opportunity to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.
“It sounded like it had a reasonable shot, and then the last minute he went to Green Bay,” he said.
Johnson said a couple of other teams offered him deals — a league source said he could have made more elsewhere — but none interested him.
“My decision was always to stick with my team,” Johnson said. “My passion is here. I’m going to stay where my passion and loyalty is at.”
Johnson also sent a special video message to Panthers fans on Twitter:
“We’ve got two years to get it done,” he said. “I’ll give you my blood, sweat and tears. I bleed black and blue, and that’s going to be ’til I retire.”
“It’s great to have Charles back,” coach Ron Rivera said in a statement. “He has spent his entire career with the Panthers, has emerged as a leader for us in the last few years, and is a big part of the reason we’ve had the success we’ve had. We look forward to having Charles continue to be part of our team.”
Johnson became known as “Big Money” when he signed a six-year, $76 million deal before the 2011 season that made him the highest-paid player in the NFL.
He was released after the 2015 season, when he had only one sack, to clear $11 million under the salary cap. He re-signed with the Panthers for a one-year, $3 million deal in an effort to prove he wasn’t washed up.
“They can’t call me ‘Big Money’ anymore,” Johnson said at the time. “They can’t say I’m wasted on the cap with this and that. I’m getting paid practice squad money, so I can just go out and play freely without all that extra attention to me.”
Johnson, who has been plagued by hamstring injuries over the past two seasons, was lauded by Rivera as Carolina’s most consistent defensive lineman in 2016. He had four sacks last season.
Johnson, who has spent his entire career with Carolina, was at his best with the Panthers from 2010 to 2013, when he had 44 sacks.