I was on the phone with my brother-in-law Brian last week and he and I got to talking about the idea of the Green Bay Packers making a run at Julius Peppers.
Peppers, currently a member of the Carolina Panthers, seems destined for free agency as long-term contract talks between he and the team have pretty much broken off. If he hits the market, the defensive end will be looking for a deal that pays him an average of $15 million a season. His representation will point to his gaudy numbers (81 sacks, 30 forced fumbles and five Pro Bowls in eight seasons, all with Carolina), nearly unmatched skill set (6-feet, 7-inches, 283 pounds with great speed and athleticism) and the increased value of defensive ends as reasons he should be paid elite money.
His numbers have been impressive, for the most part, but Peppers still has a major question mark or two surrounding him, as well. Some have questioned Peppers’ maturity and willingness to play hard week-in and week-out and wonder just how much he really loves the game of football. Take the 2007 season, for example, in which Peppers seemed completely disinterested. It showed as he finished with a pathetic 2.5 sacks in 14 games.
In other words, the 30-year old is pretty much the ultimate risk-reward situation.
With his unwillingness to dip into free agency – and with so many in-house free agents needing to be taken care of – it’s highly doubtful Ted Thompson decides to gamble on Peppers. Part of me thinks that’s a good thing. The clear needs at offensive line and secondary make a Peppers signing completely frivolous. And if “Bad Peppers” shows up upon signing a six-year, $80 million deal, you’ve wrecked your financial situation for the next few years – at least.
On the other hand…
There are just so many reasons why Peppers could be a smash hit in Green Bay, the type of game-breaking player who could put not only the defense, but the entire squad over the top.
Perhaps I’m playing Devil’s Advocate here, but keep the following factors in mind:
- He’d be moving to outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, which is where he’s wanted to be for awhile now. Last January, Peppers’ agent told ESPN that Peppers wanted to move to OLB on a team with a 3-4 defense because that scheme would allow him to fully use his talents, especially in rushing the passer. If he’s playing at his desired spot, he’ll likely be happier and more productive.
- He didn’t really get along with Packers’ defensive line coach Mike Trgovac while Trgovac was his defensive coordinator in Carolina a couple of years ago. But those two would not interact all that much. Peppers would work primarily with outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene. Something tells me Greene would make sure Peppers was properly motivated. For Peppers’ sake, he’d better be.
- He’d have a defensive coordinator in Dom Capers who would know how to fully utitlize his unique talents (see: Woodson, Charles in 2009). Peppers would be lined up ALL over the place with Capers at the helm – outside linebacker, defensive end and defensive tackle (in the nickel sets). Heck, maybe some strong safety even (in the “Big Okie” formation). Who knows?
- Speaking of Woodson, what was the big knock on him when he signed in 2006? He was immature and he didn’t like football all that much. As he got older, he got wiser, finally tapping into his inner passion for the game. He was 29 when he signed in Green Bay. Peppers is 30. Roughly the same age. Could also be the same time for Peppers to start maturing, even more so when you consider that he’d be playing on a team on the rise. He’d want to be good every week.
- It might take a minute for him to fully learn his new OLB spot. That doesn’t mean he’s another Aaron Kampman, though. Peppers’ freakish skills would likely make for a much smoother (and quicker) transition. And when he gets it all down, he’ll get a ton of favorable matchups because, with Clay Matthews on the other side, teams won’t be able to fully focus on Peppers. Speaking of which, Peppers and Matthews? Sounds awfully damn good, doesn’t it?
- Finally, when Peppers plays well, his team usually wins. Take a look at last season, for example. Eight of his 10.5 sacks came in Panthers’ wins.
When you consider that I just listed six – SIX! – factors for why Peppers in Green Bay could work, maybe I’m not playing Devil’s Advocate after all. Again, he’d be playing a position he wants to play, with guys who can properly motivate him and put him in spots to be successful. He’d also have a guy opposite him who could take some heat off and he’d have all this at the age when most men really start to mature.
I’m not trying to get your collective hopes up too much by saying all of this. I’m simply saying that there are more reasons Peppers would work in Green Bay than reasons he’d fail.
What do you think, fans? Do you think Teddy should throw caution to the wind and make a run at Peppers? As always, feel free to comment.