The idea of the Patriots trading for Julius Peppers was floated this offseason, and with the Panthers up this week for the club, his name is sure to come up. And it should.
Peppers, who indicated that he was unhappy in Carolina over the winter, signed his $16.7 million franchise tender to return there after it became apparent that he wasn’t going anywhere. The Panthers simply weren’t going to take dimes on the dollar for him, and the hefty cap charge he carried after being tagged made him difficult to move to begin with.
Moments ago, Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio was asked about him, and responded by saying that “I think that time of the year, you talk about a number of different players” without going into any detail. So I had a scout on the phone a few minutes ago, and asked for an assessment on the four-time Pro Bowler, who seems well on his way to the sixth double-digit sack season of his eight-year career.
“The issue with him is effort,” the scout said. “When he plays hard, he’s one of the most dominant guys in the game. The problem is he might only show up for 10 of 65 plays, and this is a guy who’s looking for big money. I know he was looking for a trade, and he had to stay there because he got franchised, and I don’t know if he’s shut it down in some ways because of that, but it’s an issue. It’s never physical. It’s always mental with him, and about how much effort he’ll exert. You always wonder if you’re not having the season you want, if he’ll go and shut it down a little.
“It’s always a question of what plays he shows up on, and how many big plays he’s actually making when he does. He’s not a big hustle guy.”
So I asked if that’s something you can coach out of a guy — In essence, can a dog become a horse for you?
“That’s why he’s such an enigma, he has that kind of potential,” the scout said. “If you pay the guy, does he completely shut it down? A change of scenery might help, but it depends where he goes. Say he goes to Pittsburgh — He gets to play in the 3-4, they have that core leadership, they’ve won Super Bowls, and maybe it becomes similar to what Moss had when he went to New England, and he said, ‘OK, I buy in, do my thing, and I can win and get paid.
“It needs to be a stable situation with a proven head coach that can manage him without making it seem like he’s against him. The coach would have to show him: You buy in, we win championships.”
Just my own feeling here is that Bill Belichick and the Patriots would be enamored of Peppers on the defensive side the way they once were with Moss on the offensive side. He’s another size-speed freak who’s been awfully productive.
And he’ll almost certainly be a free agent come winter. For the Panthers to franchise him, they’d have to do it at about $20.04 million (a 20 percent raise on this year’s salary) which is most certainly a prohibitive number for almost anyone.
Last year, Carolina was completely dormant in free agency because Peppers’s cap number hung around its neck like a noose. If the NFL does go into an uncapped environment, it would be easier to tag Peppers, but then you run the risk that he signs the tender, and assumes total control over his situation.
Bottom line: There’s a really good chance Peppers hits the market. So keep an eye on him Sunday. Could be an audition.