Last season, rumors rant rampant that the Patriots were going to trade for DE/OLB Julius Peppers to bolster a feeble pass rush. Of course, that never materialized and Peppers stayed in Carolina and posted a 10 1/2 sack season while the Patriots’ feeble pass rush remained feeble. Now, with Julius Peppers ready to hit free agency, the Patriots are again rumored to be among his suitors. Peppers would project to play OLB in the 3-4 scheme, something he hasn’t done playing DE in Carolina, but certainly a position he is athletically capable of playing. While most think he could transition well, not everyone thinks Peppers-to-Patriots is a good fit. Besides his inexperience in the 3-4, there are other negatives. Peppers, as Pete Prisco from CBS Sports notes, is 30 years old. History tells us that 30-year-old defensive ends begin to lose their effectiveness, though a switch to OLB could prolong his effectiveness as it did for Willie McGinest and Mike Vrabel.
Another detractor, and the biggest, is the price tag. Peppers will surely want a big money contract way north of $12 million/year and a major signing bonus. In a normal year with the right structuring, this may have been more plausible for the Patriots, but this is not a normal year. The Patriots have to worry about taking care of their own first. Vince Wilfork is looking for a rich, long term deal and is too valuable to lose, anchoring the 3-4. Aside from Big Vince, the Patriots also have to worry about Leigh Bodden, Kevin Faulk, Stephen Neal, and others as unrestricted free agents. On the restricted front, the two big names are Stephen Gostkowski and Logan Mankins. On top of that, the Pats are trying to lock Brady up long term as he enters the final year of his contract. I won’t even get into Randy Moss, also entering the final year of his contract.
Despite this, NFL.com analysts Pat Kirwan and Vic Carucci think that the Patriots are the front-runner in the Julius derby. I’m not quite so hopeful. I don’t think signing Peppers at the expense of Wilfork makes a ton of sense, and a contract that would suit Peppers might hamper re-signing Tom Brady. If the Pats were going to make a big splash, an uncapped year would be the year to do it, but judging by how they set up their business model and the eventual return of the cap, it just doesn’t seem likely. It’s more likely they will go for a lower level free agent like Aaron Kampman. It will be interesting once free agency starts.