The New England Patriots will lose at least one member of their Super Bowl LI winning defensive edge depth chart this offseason: Veteran Chris Long has already announced that he will leave the team after only one season. A second member of the rotation, Jabaal Sheard, might join him, as he too is headed to unrestricted free agency.
Consequently, the Patriots might look to add depth behind Trey Flowers and Rob Ninkovich. Given Ninkovich’s age – he turned 33 in February – a long-term option would certainly be favorable, and given the strength of this years draft class could very well be in the books. But if New England also wants a short-term addition, it might make sense to pursue veteran Julius Peppers.
While Peppers himself is 37 years old, he has announced that he plans on returning for a 16th season in the NFL. Coming off a season in which he registered 7.5 sacks while playing 58.4% of the Green Bay Packers’ defensive snaps (721 of 1,234), the veteran will surely garner some interest on the open market. And it would not be a surprise if one of the teams looking at Peppers were the Patriots.
One year after New England signed veteran Chris Long to a one-year, $2.375 million contract, Peppers could be a candidate to receive a similar offer. In exchange for his services, he would receive one of his best chances of winning a Super Bowl – coincidentally with the team that took one from him 13 years ago. The lure of a ring, as has been the case with Long, could be enough to make Peppers consider joining the Patriots on a relatively modest deal.
New England, on the other hand, would get additional depth on its defensive edge by signing the 2nd overall selection of the 2002 NFL draft. With Long and possibly Sheard gone, the rotation which has worked well for the team in 2016 would thus be able to stay alive looking similar to how it was last played. While a Flowers-Ninkovich-Peppers(-Sheard?) defensive edge depth chart would not be a long-term stability plan, it would help soften the loss of Long.
For the Patriots, this could be an attractive option to consider once free agents starts in two days.