Four landing spots for Julius Peppers

Julius Peppers is ruling out a long-term deal with the Panthers, making it more and more likely that he won’t return to Carolina next season.

With that in mind, here are four possible landing spots for the defensive end next season.

Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles are loaded with depth at the defensive end position, headlined by Trent Cole and rounded out by Juqua Parker, Darren Howard, Victor Abiamiri, Chris Clemons and Jason Babin. But they still lack that playmaker opposite Cole that could really wreak some havoc in defensive coordinator Sean McDermott’s aggressive scheme. Unless a sleeper prospect falls to them in the middle rounds, it’s unlikely that the Eagles will be able to address their defensive end need via the draft. That’s where Peppers comes in. If Philly decides to be aggressive this offseason, they may try to acquire Peppers whether the Panthers decide to franchise tag him or not. (They may be in line to acquire more draft picks if/when they trade Kevin Kolb, Donovan McNabb or Michael Vick.) Paired with Cole, the Eagles would have one of the best pass-rushing tandems in the league.

Atlanta Falcons
Jamaal Anderson hasn’t turned out to be the pass-rushing force opposite John Abraham that the Falcons envisioned he would be when they selected the former Razorback with the eighth overall pick in 2007. Worse yet, after racking up 16.5 sacks in 2008, Abraham (the team’s best pass rusher) only produced 5.5 QB take downs last season and will turn 32 in early May. Some feel as though Abraham has lost a step, but he would flourish playing opposite Peppers on the same defensive line. Pep would also make the vastly underrated Jonathan Babineaux and 2009 first round pick Peria Jerry even more dangerous on the inside, but the question now becomes whether or not the Falcons will be active in free agency. GM Thomas Dimitroff didn’t make any significant splashes last offseason, instead opting to build his roster via the draft. But if Dimitroff decides to be aggressive, then Peppers makes a lot of sense for a team like Atlanta, which is clearly on the rise but needs to plug some of its defensive holes.

New England Patriots
Rumors surfaced last offseason that New England was a possible landing spot for Peppers, so it makes sense that the Pats would be viewed as candidates again this year. The Patriots definitely have a need for a pass rusher and Peppers said last year that he wanted to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. Given that Adalius Thomas has fallen out of favor with Bill Belichick, there could be a spot opening up in the Pats’ defense. But considering players like Tom Brady, Vince Wilfork, Logan Mankins and Stephen Gostkowski all need new contracts, New England might decide to spend its money on retaining its own players instead of acquiring outside help like Peppers. Plus, keep in mind that the Patriots were burned in the Thomas deal, so they may be reluctant to shell out big bucks for another pass-rusher.

Carolina Panthers
There’s still a possibility that the Panthers will franchise Peppers again like they did last year. The problem with that is it’ll cost them roughly $20.1 million and therefore, it’s unlikely that they’ll go that route. Instead, they’ll probably make Pep their best offer and if he decides that the grass is greener in another stadium, then he’ll exit Carolina stage left. Of course, they could always franchise him and then try to trade him in order to get some form of compensation, but if they don’t find a willing trade partner than they could wind up footing the $20.1 million bill for him next season. Carolina seems like an unlikely destination for Peppers next year, but given how much history the two have together nobody should be surprised if he has a change of heart and returns to the Panthers in 2010.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

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