It's Too Early To Count The Patriots Out Of The Julius Peppers Sweepstakes

Graeme FrisqueContributor IIMarch 20, 2009

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 10:  Julius Peppers #89 of the Carolina Panthers walks off the field in the rain after being defeated by the Arizona Cardinals 33-13 in the NFC Divisional Playoff Game on January 10, 2009 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Recent reports circulating in the media have all but ruled out the possibility of the New England Patriots acquiring the services of Carolina Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers next season. These reports are largely based on a report by the NFL Network's Adam Schefter. 

But are these reports premature?

It was just a week ago that reports were claiming that the Patriots acquisition of Peppers was only a matter of time; these reports were mostly based on another story released by the NFL Network's Vic Carucci.

If there is one thing I have learned about following the NFL all these years, it is that things usually aren't what they seem. It seems clear that the folks at NFL Network are pretty unsure of what's really going on in terms of where things are at between Peppers, the Panthers, and the Patriots. 

What is clear is that Peppers is interested in playing for the Patriots, and Coach Bill Belichick seems to think highly of Peppers.

As reported by the Boston Globe in a recent article by Christopher L. Gasper, Belichick had this to say about Peppers in an interview with WEEI: "He [Julius Peppers] is a great player and still a young player," and said the 29-year-old Peppers "has a great future in this league."

Belichick went on to say, "Certainly, Julius Peppers is one of the better players in the league ... He brings a lot of skill, and he has had a lot of production."

Peppers' interest in the Patriots was also confirmed through a source that is close to the player, as reported by Mike Cranton in the Associated Press earlier this week. 

So why does a marriage between Peppers and the Patriots suddenly seem so unlikely?

Reports earlier this week had Peppers going to the Patriots for a second pick (34th overall, acquired in the Cassel trade with Chiefs). Granted, that seemed a little low, but that doesn't mean the Patriots don't have any extra ammunition to sweeten the deal. The Patriots possess a first-round pick and three second-round picks to throw around, not to mention a probable third-rounder to be added as compensation for Asante Samuel.

I also don't see any reason why the Patriots wouldn't pony up for the standout DE either. Belichick also stated in his interview with WEEI that he felt Peppers could easily fit into whatever defensive scheme the team that acquires him wants to run.

Even if the Panthers are looking for a player in return, the Patriots have a lot of depth on the defensive line as it is, and could easily include a player like Jarvis Green in such a deal. 

Peppers would likely move back and forth from defensive end to outside linebacker in the Patriots' system anyway, making a player like Green available to consummate a deal, not to mention to clear cap space to fit both Peppers and impending signee Vince Wilfork under the cap for years to come.

There are many scenarios that would allow for the Patriots to acquire Julius Peppers from the Panthers. There are also many scenarios that see him signing elsewhere, making any attempt at gauging what's really going on extremely difficult. 

Add in the NFL's perchance for secrecy when it comes to trade matters and what results is little more than rampant back-and-forth speculation.

All that we know for sure at this point is that the Patriots like Peppers and Peppers likes the Patriots. That alone should be enough to tell observers that the possibility of Peppers in a Patriots uniform next season still holds water. 

Not only does it hold water, but after hearing of the interest on the part of both parties over the last few days, it seems even more likely now than it did last week when insiders were only speculating that the Patriots were that "unidentified" AFC team on Pepper's list of desired trade locations.

Will this trade happen? It seems clear that no one knows for sure. But it is most definitely too early to rule out the possibility.