Peppers Talk On The Table

Julius Peppers

Although they can't officially talk to Julius Peppers until he signs his tender, they're talking about Julius Peppers. The Patriots are still connected to the Panthers franchise player whether they want to be or not.

An already active offseason got a little spicier this week thanks to an NFL.com report indicating the Patriots and Panthers were "hoping to complete" a deal that would ship disgruntled defensive end Julius Peppers from Carolina to New England.

Citing league sources the report said that the Patriots would send a second-round pick - the 34th overall selection in the draft that the team acquired from the Chiefs in the deal that sent quarterback Matt Cassel and linebacker Mike Vrabel to Kansas City Feb. 27 - to the Panthers. It also stated that the two teams were looking to finalize the deal sometime between the start of the NFL owners meetings on March 22 and the first day of the draft on April 25.

Because Peppers has been slapped with Carolina's franchise tag for the second straight offseason and has yet to sign his $16.68 million franchise tender, any trade talks at this point would have to go through his agent, Carl Carey.

The Panthers made that fact very clear in a statement released shortly after the NFL.com report surfaced.

"By the rules of the (collective bargaining agreement) we cannot and have not had any conversations with other teams about Julius," Panthers GM Marty Hurney said. "Under the non-exclusive franchise tag, Julius and his agent, Carl Carey, are within their rights to talk to other teams about a potential contract. However, at this point, we are not aware of any such conversations."

Peppers has been unhappy in Carolina and indicated that he wanted to move on to another team, specifically one in which he could play outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme in order for him to maximize his own perceived talents. He reportedly has a preferred list of teams he's hoping to get traded to, including the Patriots, Cowboys and two other NFC franchises.

There is a clear need for Peppers' pass-rushing services in New England. Even with the former All-Pro Vrabel in the lineup last fall the Patriots ranked in the middle of the pack with just 31 team sacks. Now that Vrabel is gone, there is a starting job up for grabs at outside linebacker on Bill Belichick's defense.

Clearly, though, the combination of Peppers' desire to play in a 3-4 like New England's and the team's need for such a dominant presence on the edge doesn't mean there aren't hurdles to getting the deal done. Set to make more than $16 million via the franchise tag -- and in a landscape that's seen Jared Allen ($70 million) and Albert Haynesworth (theoretical $100 million) cash in over the last two years - Peppers will certainly be looking to sign a big-money, long-term deal wherever he lands via trade.

Fitting that sort of a deal under the salary cap in New England while also potentially working to sign would-be 2010 Pro Bowl caliber free agents like Vince Wilfork, Richard Seymour and Logan Mankins to extensions could not only take some creative accounting it might be fiscally impossible.

There is also the question of how well Peppers, who's spent his entire career as a 4-3 defensive end, would transition to linebacker in the 3-4. Belichick has referenced in the past that the 6-7, 283-pound Peppers is athletic enough to make the switch. And Jason Taylor successfully made a similar switch under Nick Saban in a very Patriots-like scheme in Miami. But until it happens for Peppers on the field, there is some uncertainty.

Taylor, by the way, remains a free agent and could very well be a far cheaper backup plan for the Patriots should the Peppers trade not come to fruition over the next month.

If Carolina, New England and Peppers' reps can work out not only the trade portion of the deal but also a contract, the world may get the chance to see the transition happen for a Patriots team that's impressively retooling this spring with an eye on returning not just to the postseason but to the Super Bowl. Things are still in the "if" stages, but it's one pretty interesting if for Patriots fans to speculate on at this point.

NOTES:

--CB Leigh Bodden inked a one-year deal with the Patriots on March 11, after reportedly turning down a more lucrative, multi-year deal with the team earlier in free agency. Bodden, a six-year veteran who spent last season in Detroit after five years with the Browns, joins Shawn Springs in a New England secondary that's being rebuilt following a dismal 2008 campaign.

The 6-1, 193-pound veteran has 53 starts in 75 career games. He had just one interception last fall for the 0-16 Lions, but notched six in 2007 working under Browns head coach and former Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel. Bodden hopes that positive experience in a similar scheme will help him make successful transition to his new team.

"From Romeo being with the Patriots, he brought a lot of the defense over to Cleveland, so I'm familiar with the system and that's what I plan on doing-just kind of getting familiar with the system again and the terminology that these guys use and trying to help the team win," Bodden said. "New England was one of the teams I was hoping was interested in me because of what Mr. (Robert) Kraft has done with the organization, the success that they've built and obtained over the years, and to just play for a coach that knows what he's doing and really knows how to win. That's definitely what I wanted to come to: a winning organization."

--QB Tom Brady was one of the Patriots in attendance at Gillette Stadium March 16 for the first day of the team's offseason program. Brady continues to rehab from surgery to repair the left knee injury that cost him all of last season. One of his new receiving targets, former Eagle Greg Lewis, didn't want to comment on how Brady looked working out. He preferred to focus on his future with one of the game's elite passers.

"I didn't graduate with a Ph.D., or an M.D., or any of those doctor's terms so I can't describe what he looks like or what he is," Lewis said. "I know that when I get out there - whatever he asks me to do - I'm going to be ready to do it and I'm going to try to do it to the best of my abilities and do what I can."

--As part of the celebration of its 50th anniversary season New England is putting together a series of top-10 lists for Patriots.com that look down memory lane in the franchise's pretty unique history. The first of those lists was released last week, commemorating the "Top 10 Personnel Moves" in Patriots history. The team's 2000 trade of a first-round pick to the Jets for the rights to hire Bill Belichick took the top spot on the list, just beating out the 2007 trade of a fourth-round pick to the Raiders to acquire Randy Moss. The full list can be found on Patriots.com where fans are also urged to submit their own list of top-10 personnel moves.

--WR Joey Galloway reportedly came to terms on a one-year deal with New England on March 14, although the team did not officially announce the move. The 37-year-old Galloway was released by Tampa Bay Feb. 25. Though the 13-year veteran battled through injuries to notch just 13 catches for 138 yards last fall he had eclipsed 1,000 yards in his previous three seasons with the Bucs. Galloway joins Greg Lewis in New England as the team looks to replace departed No. 3 receiver Jabar Gaffney and add depth behind Randy Moss and Wes Welker on a top-heavy wide receiver depth chart.

"He's excited about the many different opportunities afforded him by playing for this franchise and coach, as well as with Tom Brady and the wide receivers already on their roster," Galloway's agent, Shawn Trell, told the Boston Globe.

--The Patriots announced a handful of lower-level transactions on March 16. The team added veteran free-agent C Al Johnson, re-signed restricted free agent OL Wesley Britt, re-signed exclusive rights free agent S Ray Ventrone and re-signed free agent S Tank Williams and DL Mike Wright. Wright, a career backup and special teamer in four seasons in New England, inked a four-year pact for $7.5 million with escalators that could push it to $10 million.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "The guy could probably play ... he certainly could play outside linebacker." -- Bill Belichick praising Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers' athleticism prior to a September 2005 against Carolina.

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