Panthers' Julius Peppers announces his retirement

Bruschi: Peppers has first ballot HOF 'written all over him' (1:03)

Darren Woodson and Tedy Bruschi break down Julius Peppers' athleticism and the impact he had on the NFL. (1:03)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers, fourth on the NFL's career sacks list, on Friday announced his retirement after 17 seasons.

Peppers, 39, is projected by many to be a first-ballot Hall of Fame selection when he becomes eligible for enshrinement in Canton, Ohio, in five years. His total of 159.5 career sacks trails only Kevin Greene (160), Reggie White (198) and Bruce Smith (200).

The next-closest active player is Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs, with 132.5.

"No doubt a first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee," former teammate Kevin Donnalley, a guard with the Panthers early in Peppers' career and a member of the team broadcast crew the past few seasons, told ESPN. "Just the one stat alone, fourth in all-time sacks, makes him that.

"And reaching a number that today's current players still might not get close to. ... When you couple he was so productive for so many years and he's got the stats to back it up ... it's just a no-brainer. I don't know why it would be in discussion."

Peppers' 266 games played out of a possible 272 are the sixth most by a defensive player in NFL history. The second overall pick by Carolina in the 2002 draft, Peppers closed his career by playing in 176 consecutive games, the second-longest active streak behind Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers.

A quiet, behind-the-scenes leader for most of his career, Peppers became more vocal in the locker room and the community when he returned to Carolina for his second stint after spending seven years with the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers following his first eight years with the Panthers.

Peppers, who is nominated for this year's Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award that will be announced Saturday at NFL Honors in Atlanta, said his goodbye in a video in which he said:

"Thank you. For the victories and the good times. For the lessons and the times we desired more. For the sacrifices, the belief, the confidence and the unwavering support -- I'm thankful. Because without you, this wasn't possible. Thank you for the spirit, the resolve and the attitude to Keep Pounding. It's not something we just say around here. It's how we live. I'm thankful for the things you showed me about life that were bigger than football and for a second chance -- a new beginning.

"See, the players, we come and we go, but the constant is you. And as the saying goes, 'Once a Panther, always a Panther.' Thank you for the memories, the friendships, the laughs and the culture we created. For the understanding and for being family. Thanks for all the years and cheers. And for being home now and forever.

"I wouldn't change a thing about this journey. It was the best teacher I've ever had and was everything I could've hoped for. The tough times never lasted, and the tough people inspired me to be better and give more. I hope I did the same. Only time can reveal what's next, but my time here is up. No regrets, no looking back and nothing left to give. It's not goodbye. It's kinda like, 'I'll see you later.' But until then I'm grateful, I'm satisfied and at peace with all that comes next."

Peppers was a model of consistency. He had at least seven sacks in all but two seasons, including a career-best 14.5 in 2008.

"Julius is one of the greatest to ever play the game of football," coach Ron Rivera said in a statement. "To put up the numbers he did for as long as he did speaks to his incredible talent and commitment. He is a leader in the locker room and in the community.

"Getting to know him over the last two seasons has been tremendous because of the type of person he is. What he did for the people affected by Hurricane Florence, getting involved and bringing them hope, says a lot about who he is. I'm proud that I get to say that I was one of his coaches, and I think it's fitting that he gets to end his career as a Carolina Panther."

General manager Marty Hurney said few players make him think of the word "special," and Peppers is one of them.

"He's a special player and a special person," said Hurney, who made Peppers his first draft pick. "His consistency and the ability to make big plays at big times are what define him on the field. Off the field, he's a great leader. He chooses his words carefully. He's got great perspective not only on football but on life. For him to be able to come back and finish his career as a Panther is a great ending to a phenomenal career."