On Peppers and the Packers

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
Eric, the latest to connect the dots, sent this note to the mailbag:

With Julius Peppers wanting out of Carolina to apparently play in a 3-4 scheme, any chance Green Bay would take a look at acquiring him?

To review, here are the dots:

  • The Packers will transition to a 3-4 scheme in 2009 under new defensive coordinator Dom Capers.

  • One of their incumbent defensive ends, Cullen Jenkins, missed most of 2008 because of a torn pectoral muscle. The other, Aaron Kampman, might project as a hybrid linebacker in the new scheme.

  • Peppers' agent has suggested his client might be best-suited for the 3-4 scheme.

  • The Panthers run a 4-3 and aren't likely to change.

But here's a catch, one that I didn't even recognize when this story first surfaced last week. Peppers wants to play linebacker, not defensive end, in a 3-4 scheme. At 6-foot-7 and about 290 pounds, Peppers probably would have to drop about 20 pounds to fit the part.

In reality, any 3-4 team that acquires Peppers is going to have to modify its scheme to maximize his pass rush and minimize all other responsibilities. The roster might say "LB" next to his name, but in reality Peppers would be a stand-up defensive end. Pound for pound, he is one of the best athletes in the NFL. But I still don't like the idea of him spending too much time away from the line of scrimmage.

So that's part one of the answer. The second, and more relevant to this blog: Would the traditionally conservative Packers even consider making an offseason play for him?

General manager Ted Thompson has come under intense scrutiny for his recent reluctance to enter the free-agent market. But it's not as if he has never acquired a big-time player. Prior to the 2006 season, he signed cornerback Charles Woodson to a seven-year, $52 million contract and also brought in defensive tackle Ryan Pickett with a four-year, $14 million deal.

Thompson is going to have to consider free agency in 2009 if the Packers want to make this change work. Here's how Thompson described his general approach earlier this month:

"Everybody talks about free agency as though it's fantasy football. Free agency is part of the thing we've used. We think it's a tool to address particular needs."

Few could argue that pass rush isn't a need for the Packers, as it is for most teams. But would Thompson be willing to play ball in the neighborhood that Carolina and Peppers are likely to be seeking? We won't know that answer until the bidding begins.

(Peppers' contract expires next month but the Panthers could place the franchise tag on him to ensure compensation if he leaves.)

Minnesota set the market for acquiring a top-caliber pass rusher last offseason when it traded a first-round draft choice and two third-round picks to Kansas City for defensive end Jared Allen. The Vikings then signed Allen to a six-year, $74 million contract that included $31 million in guaranteed money.

Peppers, who is two years older than Allen, might not fetch that ransom. But the Allen contract would certainly help establish parameters for negotiations with Peppers.

I'll say this much: Pursuing Peppers would subvert most of what Thompson has ever said or done. It can't be ruled out, considering the massive changes the Packers have already enacted on defense. But to consider it anything other than a long shot would be wishful thinking.