With Peppers gone next year, the Panthers are left with a gap at DE that could prove a devastating blow to Carolina's pass rush next season if this situation isn't handled right.
But as difficult to swallow as this pill is, it's not the end of the world, and it can be atoned for. Below are a couple of ways for the Panthers to soften the blow of the loss of the elite defensive end.
1. Trade Peppers
Peppers' contract doesn't expire until February, if I'm not mistaken. That means that the Panthers still have control over Peppers until then, and it would be best to trade Peppers for a first-round pick and a decent defensive tackle.
The Bengals appear to be the best trade partner for a deal like this. They badly need a pass rusher, and tackle Domata Peko had 67 tackles in 2008. Not to mention that Peko is stands 6'3" and weighs 325 pounds—not much smaller than Kemoeatu.
And you can't make the argument that Peko probably just made a ton of tackles because his teammates didn't do anything. Four other Bengals had at least 75 tackles last season. Peko is just a space-eating, tackling machine (at least for a DT he is).
Plus, Cincinnati will have a nice, high first-round pick in this year's draft, something the Panthers badly need.
To make the terms involved even, the Panthers could shop Darwin Walker or Hilee Taylor.
The trade would look something like this:
Panthers get: Domata Peko, Bengals' first round pick
Bengals get: Julius Peppers, Darwin Walker or Hilee Taylor
If the Panthers attempt a trade, they will probably only consider offers from the AFC. They won't want to trade Peppers to an NFC team that they may have to play next season, and they certainly won't trade him to an NFC South team, whom they would have to play twice a year.
2. Bring in another defensive coordinator
Panthers defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac's scheme, which involves sending all coverage deep to prevent the big play no matter what; keeping the linebackers within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage to cut off the short dump-off passes; and rush three or four defensive linemen (sometimes leaving Peppers with his own unique assignment), doesn't work with this team.
Trgovac's scheme would work well with a 3-4 defense with linebackers as fast as the Panthers', but three linebackers just can't cover that much of the field in pass coverage. Besides, linebackers aren't meant to play in coverage to begin with.
The Panthers need to get rid of Trgovac and find a defensive coordinator whose scheme frequently uses the linebackers to create pressure and disrupt plays in the backfield in both running and passing situations.
Carolina's linebackers Na'il Diggs, Jon Beason, and Thomas Davis have the speed to get into the backfield quickly. They demonstrated that throughout 2008 with innumerable penetrations of opponents' blocking to get into the backfield and put themselves in position to make plays. Why not use it for more than futile attempts to cover 530 square yards of the field with three players?
With fast linebackers creating pressure, the defensive line's job becomes much easier, and the secondary can also do its job more effectively.
Though Peppers is likely leaving Carolina, that doesn't mean that their defense will be awful next year—even if there's no top pass-rushing defensive end. There are moves that could be made to make the Panthers' defense just as good as—or maybe even better than—the 2008 unit.
You can bet that Panthers head coach John Fox and Marty Hurney, who made one of the boldest—and most beneficial—moves of last offseason by trading up to get the pick they used to draft Jeff Otah, will find a way to put a great defense onto the field when the Panthers open their 2009 season this September.