I have no doubt in my mind Julius Peppers is a star quality defensive end. The Carolina Panthers believe it too, slapping the franchise tag on JP at a cap cost of $16.683 million. I won't rant on and on as to why I think that's just a stupid figure for a DE, but that's beside the point. Julius Peppers' name has been batted around enough on this blog and elsewhere that I thought it was time to address the issue head on.
Julius was most likely franchised for reasons similar to Matt Cassel's recent bout with "tag your it". That is, Carolina either a) needs him and is willing to shell out $16M+ or b) they want to tie him up and get something for it. Either way, there has been speculation all over the place that Peppers is already picking out his locker at Gillette or he's close to picking out curtains in his new Back Bay condo. Before we dive into whether or not this is a good thing, I believe a refresher on defensive schemes run by the Patriots and Panthers is in order.
The Patriots are widely known for running a 3-4 defensive scheme which essentially means 3 defensive linemen (2 defensive ends and a nose tackle) and 4 linebackers (2 inside linebackers and 2 outside linebackers). The remainder of the defense is 2 cornerbacks and 2 safeties. The job of the DLs is to plug the gaps and jam the offensive line; as such, they are usually very big guys. The OLBs cover the edges and, in many cases, one of the OLBs is responsible for pass rushing or creating pressure in the backfield (Mike Vrabel was a perfect example of this).
In a 4-3 defensive scheme, there's 4 defensive linemen, 1 middle linebacker and 2 outside linebackers, 2 corners and 2 safeties. In this scheme, the defensive linemen are a bit smaller than the 3-4 scheme and the DEs in this lineup have a vastly different job than in a 3-4 DEs: create pressure. Therefore, they are light, strong, and fast. Light, at 270 lbs, being a relative term.
Ok, school's out. Why did I go through this example? Julius Peppers is a DE in a 4-3 scheme. He's simply not built to be a DE in a 3-4. But wait, that's not where he wants to be. Julius is far more interested in taking on OLB duties in a 3-4. He's 270 and is insanely fast, the perfect pass rusher. This would seem to make sense given we just lost OLB Mike Vrabel. It might make sense if circumstances were vastly different.
First, Peppers will be VERY expensive. 4-3 DEs of his caliber don't come around very often and get paid a ton of money; Belichick would never pay that much for an OLB, especially when he needs to take care of one of the most important defensive players on the roster: nose tackle Vince Wilfork. And Peppers wants a longterm extension that will likely scare the Patriots away. Even though Vrabel is bound for Kansas City, we have starters Pierre Woods and Adalius Thomas - not too shabby. We could pick up a value free agent and, along with OLB Shawn Crable, we'd be in good shape.
As mentioned above, there's no doubt in my mind Julius Peppers is an extraordinary athlete. But, he comes with an extraordinary price tag. And the Patriots are not known to go on spending sprees.