After a brief hiatus, I’m back.

(And for those wondering, I promise you my absence wasn’t because I was ashamed to face you after my perfect NFL predictions took a nasty hit.)

Obviously, a lot has happened over the past week or so. Here are my takes on a few of those topics:

Free-agent-to-be Julius Peppers wants out of Charlotte, huh?

Through his agent, the Carolina Panthers defensive end said he prefers to move on and play in a different defensive scheme than the 4-3 set currently employed at Bank of America Stadium.

My initial thought was, “Bye, Julius.” I’m one of those people who believes Peppers is ridiculously talented but certainly not worth the lofty price tag he’ll command this offseason. Sure, he occasionally makes plays that prompt you to say, “Wow!” But there just hasn’t been any consistency to his greatness, which is what you want from a guy who’s making more than $15 million a year.

But the Panthers can’t be emotional about things. The best thing for the franchise is to assign Peppers the “franchise” tag, which means he’d be eligible for a one-year contract worth the average of the top five NFL players at his position. In Peppers’ case, that’s about $17 million.

After that, they should trade him.

No need bringing Peppers back if he truly doesn’t want to be a Panther. There should be no coercing, no vowing to alter the defensive scheme just to fit his talents. Heck, Peppers looked disinterested far too many times during his seven-year stint with the Panthers, even when he was a twenty-something rising celebrity playing pro football in his home state. Just imagine how he’ll look if he feels he’s being forced to be here.

Franchise him, and then get veteran players, draft picks and whatever else you can. The Panthers are in one heck of a predicament with Peppers. Either way, they have to get some compensation for him. To let him walk to another team for nothing in return would be silly.

The only thing sillier would be keeping him around next season.

The NFL will miss you, Tony Dungy, but…

I might have been one of the few people who weren’t saddened by Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy’s decision to retire recently.

Is it a loss for the NFL and football? Absolutely. Although he doesn’t get the credit, Dungy is a Hall of Fame-caliber coach, and the league will miss him. The Colts need him, and football needs him as a shining light of dignity and excellence.

But America’s young men – specifically, young men who aren’t in the NFL – need him worse.

Dungy, the only African-American head coach to win a Super Bowl, won’t just go fishing and help his own children during his retirement; he said he plans to be involved with a prison ministry and mentoring teenagers, including young fathers.

Dungy’s retirement is football’s loss, but I’ve got a feeling it will be this country’s gain.

A sight I’d love to savor

OK, so now I have a 7-2 record with NFL predictions, thanks to pitiful performances from the Panthers and New York Giants a few weeks ago.

I’ll be back to my usual clairvoyant self after the Super Bowl, although I’ll save my game prediction for the weekend.

My pick, however, won’t have anything to do with which team I want to win. And right now, I’m torn. For one thing, I’d like to see my man Edgerrin James, who left Indianapolis before the Colts won their ring, finally get his moment in the sun with the Arizona Cardinals. But then …

There’s a big part of me rooting for the Pittsburgh Steelers, largely because it would be great for young head coach Mike Tomlin, all of 36 years old, to win it. To watch a man who’s an extension of Tony Dungy’s coaching tree win the Super Bowl would be a perfect finish on the heels of Dungy’s retirement.

What’s more, it would be a tremendous experience to see the second black head coach to win a Super Bowl shaking hands with Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president, during a White House ceremony.

C. Jemal Horton has covered sports for the Washington Post, Indianapolis Star and Charlotte Observer. He currently is group sports editor for Carolina Weekly Newspapers.

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