Wouldn't You Like to Be Peppers Too?
Let’s engage in a little fantasy, shall we?
new league year kicks off at midnight Thursday night. Teams will
be allowed to consummate trades (like the one sending backup quarterback
Rosenfels to the Vikings for a fourth rounder) and sign other
teams’ free agents. While predicting exactly what the Texans
will do is something of a fool’s errand, well… this
is the offseason. It’s time for a little foolery.
have been a series of events that in nearly all likelihood have
no connection to the Texans’ possible pursuit of Panthers
defensive end Julius Peppers, but laid out one after the next sure
makes it look like something could be there if you squint hard enough.
As there are two sides to every story, there are two sides to this
speculation as well, the one of the Texans and the one of Peppers.
• They have cleared sizeable 2009
salary cap room in the last two weeks. Gone are Ahman Green,
Morlon Greenwood, and the anticipated departures of Anthony Weaver
and Sage Rosenfels. These four moves alone created roughly $8 million
in additional cap flexibility, and they saved about $15 million
in cash via base salaries and miscellaneous bonuses.
• Weaver’s departure in particular is telling. He plays
left defensive end, and his release saved an almost negligible $800,000
in cap space. As Gary Kubiak’s first megaBuXXX free agent
signing of his Texans tenure, there had likely been equal parts
ego and optimism at play in keeping him around at least one more
year, so his dismissal probably was not an easy one on the head
coach. It also came two weeks or so after Green and Greenwood were
let go, a passage of time not yet explained.
• The team tendered cornerback Dunta Robinson with the franchise
tag and indefinitely
stalled contract extension negotiations with linebacker DeMeco
Ryans. Throw in too that the team seems likely to tender tight end
Owen Daniels as a restricted free agent instead of signing him to
long-term contract (at least not yet). Add it up and find that general
manager Rick Smith has specifically withheld more than $30 million
in guaranteed cash for the time being.
• The Texans are looking to accumulate draft picks. They are
already expected to add the fourth rounder from the Vikings in exchange
for Rosenfels, and there’s a report that the team might be
to shop wide receiver Jacoby Jones for a draft pick as well.
• Kubiak has maintained that Mario Williams’ home is
defensive end. With the release of Weaver, there is no apparent
starter on the left side, other than Williams, of course.
• Kubiak has also been complimentary
of the talent potentially available on the market. Ryans also seemed
to imply that a major
free agency move was forthcoming for the team.
• The Panthers tendered him with a franchise tag at an astronomically
cap unfriendly rate of $16.683 million.
Peppers has requested
a trade, "seeking new challenges that will allow me to
grow, develop and reach my personal potential on the football field".
• Peppers has reportedly given the Panthers a list
of four teams for whom he would be willing to play. The Cowboys
are believed to be one of them, though they lack a first round pick
this year which would seemingly limit their ability to acquire Peppers
in a trade. Two of the other four teams are said to be from the
NFC, but the Panthers would be reluctant to trade Peppers within
the conference and especially within their own division (as some
seem to believe that the Bucs were one of those other teams). The
fourth team was simply said to be a mystery one from the AFC.
• Peppers has said he felt that the 3-4
system might be a good fit for his abilities in an outside linebacker
role, leading some to speculate that the Dolphins (or some other
3-4 squad like the Broncos or Browns) might be the other AFC team.
at 6'7" and 283 pounds, Peppers would be the biggest outside
linebacker I can think of should he ever play the position, though
visions of Demarcus Ware surely dance between his ears. Also worth
noting is that Peppers is three inches taller and 25 pounds heavier
• Peppers has called Houston his second
home in the past. His agent, Carl Carey, makes Houston his first
home. Carey actually informed the Panthers of Peppers’ desire
to play elsewhere from
• Peppers has spent much of his offseason in Houston. He is
a client of Danny Arnold’s
at Plex near Sugarland.
a step back, it sure seems like the Texans are stockpiling cash,
cap room, and trade compensation to make a major move. In the middle
of the first round of the draft, the team might think they are stuck
in something of a no man's land for acquiring a bonafide pass rushing
left end. As for Peppers, Houston is a very comfortable place for
him in spite of the Texans not employing a 3-4 defensive scheme.
is entering his fourth year with the Texans, and without a winning
season or a playoff berth, he might be feeling quite a bit of pressure
to make it happen this year. He has hired
a new defensive coordinator in Frank Bush and a new defensive
line coach (needing to up the ante in naming him an assistant
head coach), suggesting that if he were urging Smith to make a move,
it would be on the defensive side of the ball. He and Smith have
been willing to move desirable draft picks in the past for the right
player, having sent a pair of seconds and a swap of firsts to the
Falcons in exchange for quarterback Matt Schaub in 2007.
cost to acquire Peppers would be amazingly steep. He reportedly
down a record offer for a defensive player from the Panthers
just before the start of the 2008 season. There was some
speculation that Peppers wanted to be paid more than Colts defensive
end Dwight Freeney, who reportedly received a seven-year contract
with $30 million guaranteed.
is another comparable situation. A year ago, the Vikings signed
a defensive end Jared Allen to a six-year contract that included
$31 million in guarantees. It took more than money to acquire
Allen, too. Tendered a franchise tag by the Chiefs, the Vikings
had to give up a first round pick and two third round picks plus
a swap of sixth rounders to complete the transaction.
though was almost 27 at the time. Peppers turned 29 in January.
Teams will also only be able to amortize signing bonuses over five
seasons in the last
capped year of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, so it seems
possible that Peppers should expect less guaranteed money in a five-year
his age, signing Peppers to a long-term contract seems even more
risky, and regardless of age, any contract worth $30 million or
so in guarantees at an average of at
least $13 million per year is going to be inherently risky anyway.
But remember that the magically terrifying age of 30 really seems
to apply mostly to running backs. Some of the game’s best
defensive ends were still prolific well into their 30s.
White is one such example. He recorded 104 of his 198 regular
season sacks after his 29th birthday. Bruce
Smith also had longevity at the position, recording 122 of his
200 career sacks after he turned 29. So, if he remains healthy,
there’s certainly reason to believe that Peppers is still
within the prime of his career and could perform at a level equal
production to date.
perhaps that level could really improve as Peppers seems to believe
it might with a new team. Paired opposite of Mario Williams, who
enjoyed his first Pro Bowl season last year, the two could become
the most fearsome defensive end duo in the league.
call it an offseason dream with unlikely odds. But it is still fun
to fantasize, no?
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