This is the second in a series of scouting reports on 15 key players who are slated to become free agents — restricted or unrestricted — March 5, unless they are re-signed or franchised before then.
News: The Panthers are not expected to put the franchise tag on Julius Peppers this offseason, which will allow him to hit the open market for the first time in his career. Carolina put the tag on Peppers last season, and using it on him again would cost the team approximately $20 million in 2010. GM Marty Hurney doesn't appear interested in taking that route, even if it means losing Peppers without receiving any compensation. The eight-year veteran has said he's not interested in signing a long-term deal with the Panthers and he's unhappy with the way he's been treated by the team since the season ended. Peppers said no one from the front office had reached out to him. The Patriots have been among the teams rumored to be interested in pursuing the 30-year-old. He is arguably the prize of this year's free-agent class.
Notes: After making a career-low 2½ sacks in 2007, Peppers has come back strong, putting together back-to-back double-digit sack seasons while making it to the Pro Bowl in both years. Peppers has averaged 10.1 sacks per season in his career. He forced five fumbles in '09, made two interceptions and scored a defensive touchdown. Peppers has made five Pro Bowls in his career and has missed only six games in eight pro seasons.
Positives: Peppers has a blend of size, speed, strength and athleticism that is very unusual. He is powerful enough to run through blockers with a bull rush, and he's quick enough to run around them and get to the quarterback, as well. While he's known for his pass-rushing skills, Peppers is also more than adequate defending the run and will pursue even when the ball is run away from him. He has played with his hand on the ground as an end in a 4-3 defense for his entire career, but some evaluators believe he has the tools to be an outstanding outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.
Negatives: While he's compiled impressive numbers in his career, some question his work ethic. Observers have indicated that he's not as dominant as he could be. Peppers has fallen into lengthy cold streaks in his career, and evaluators were particularly mystified by his 2½-sack campaign in 2007. He bounced back in '08 and '09, which were both contract years for him, and that fed the perception that he flips the switch when he wants to and doesn't go all out at all times.
Risk factor: Moderate. It's always a bit of a risk to sign a player like Peppers, who will likely be demanding a contract similar to the one Albert Haynesworth received a year ago from the Redskins, who gave Haynesworth $41 million guaranteed. Peppers is a dominant player at times and could take his game to another level in a more aggressive defensive system than the one he has played in as a member of the Panthers. His cold streaks have to be taken into consideration, however.
Saturday: Patriots NT Vince Wilfork
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