Peppers will draw big crowd

There will be no shortage of suitors lining up for free agent Julius Peppers. Bob Donnan/US Presswire

As we anticipate the opening of free agency at 11:01 p.m. CT Thursday, ESPN's John Clayton filed some final thought on the Julius Peppers sweepstakes.

Clayton anticipates six to eight teams bidding for Peppers' services, with the Bears, New England Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles and maybe the Washington Redskins heading up the list of interested parties.

Peppers was rumored to be on New England's radar last offseason, but a deal never materialized after the Carolina Panthers placed the franchise tag on the defensive end back in February 2009.

What's interesting about the Patriots' desire to pursue Peppers, is the fact that New England employs a 3-4 defense. Obviously, Peppers has openly embraced the idea of playing outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, a necessary negotiating tactic aimed at keeping as many teams as possible in the race.

But Peppers always played in a 4-3 at Carolina. Would he be as effective as an outsider linebacker? And is it smart business for a team to pay that kind of money to somebody learning a new position?

If a rogue spending team like Washington does enter the fray, then all bets are off, because I just don't see the Bears setting the market for any free agent. Then again, the Redskins also are converting to a 3-4 defense this season, so who knows how they view Peppers internally.

In the end, it may come down to the Bears and Eagles. If that's the case, then it would seem like the Bears have a decent shot at landing the most coveted free agent on the market.

But things can change on a dime in free agency, and maybe there's a team out there waiting to pounce on Peppers we don't know about. That's what makes this time of the year so much fun.